Facebook reminds private groups: We’re watching

The rules still apply to Facebook groups, the company warns.
Image:  JOSH EDELSON / AFP / Getty Images

Just because you’re in a private Facebook doesn’t mean the company isn’t keeping tabs on what you’re doing.

That’s the not-so-subtle reminder the social network is sending groups. In a lengthy blog post published Wednesday, Facebook’s VP of Engineering Tom Alison outlined some of the steps the company is taking to police bad behavior in groups, even if the groups aren’t visible to the public. 

“Being in a private group doesn’t mean that your actions should go unchecked,” Alison writes.

Those checks include more “proactive detection” by Facebook’s AI-powered tools that can automatically detect some types of rule-breaking content before it’s reported, and tougher rules for groups moderators. If moderators break the rules or approve too many posts from members who do, Facebook will punish the entire group with a “strike.”

The company has also added tools meant to help educate groups about past rule-breaking behavior and fake news.

None of this is new – Facebook first announced tougher rules for groups back in April – but the message the company is sending is clear: we can punish your bad behavior even if it happens in a group most people can’t see.

That’s an important message for Facebook to send, because it needs groups. The company has been touting the success of groups for years, and as it attempts to re-orient itself around “privacy,” groups are an increasingly important part of that equation. 

But it also needs groups to be perceived as safe spaces, which hasn’t always been the case. As Facebook moves to curb fake news and propaganda, private Facebook groups have emerged as one of the more problematic parts of its platform. 

Private groups, formerly known as “secret” or “closed” groups, are not accessible to the public and can be hidden entirely from non-members. And, without strict moderation, this relative anonymity allows some groups to turn into into toxic, meme-laden cesspools of conspiracy theories and harassment

This helps explain why Facebook has been investing so much in its efforts to keep a closer eye on groups. It needs groups, but it also needs group members to know Facebook is watching.

Return to top of page