Truly embarrassing Facebook status updates exposed by website

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Privacy, Social networks

Oh, word. Elliot S. showed up to work two hours late, hungover, and dude, nobody noticed. What a sweet gig!

Here's what he had to say about it on publicly posted media, just in case his employer didn't notice:

Post by Elliot S

Elliot S.: you know your job is good when you turn up 2 hours late hungover and unchanged and all your boss says is have a good night?

As opposed to poor Anastasia R., who OMG just hates her boss so much she could, like, kill him, she said publicly online where the entire world including her boss Jay can see her true, misspelled, homicidal, punctuation-challenged feelings:

Post by Anastasia

Anastasia R. Im getting so mad right now I hate my boss Jay I hope he dies better yet I feel like killin him if you in a bad mood don't take it out on everyone at the job like wtf its way to hot to take your shit-_- #Piss off

We know of such anguish because a) these people posted publicly on Facebook, and b) a new site called "We know what you're doing" has aggregated some of the choicer content for us, delivered courtesy of Facebook via its Graph API, according to the developer behind the new site.

Callum HaywoodThat developer is an 18-year-old named Callum Haywood who lives in Nottingham, England.

As Haywood has written on the site's "About this tool" page, the site is fueled by a tool he created that queries the Facebook Graph API and outputs the results.

There's nothing slimy or hackerish about it: as Haywood notes, there's nothing on the site that's not accessible to anyone who cares to query the social media site.

Haywood's site simply filters the raw JSON output, which comes in the form of uniformly represented objects in what Facebook calls its social graph, including people, photos, events, and pages and the connections between them: e.g., friend relationships, shared content, and photo tags.

His site makes the output more useful by, for example, omitting all posts except status updates, and by only showing posts in the last column that contain a phone number.

He's focused his attention on these four buckets of Facebook status update embarrassment:

  • Who wants to get fired? Haywood's tool populates this category by searching status updates for phrases such as "hate my boss."
  • Who's hungover? Searches for "hungover" in updates.
  • Who's taking drugs? Searches for words such as "cannabis."
  • Who's got a new phone number? Searches for phone numbers.

Do these people want this information to be posted on a Facebook status update aggregator devoted to pointing out how oblivious so many people are to privacy settings?

Likely not, Haywood admits. His answer, from the site:

Probably not to be fair, but it was their choice, or lack of, with regards to their account privacy settings. People have lost their jobs in the past due to some of the posts they put on Facebook, so maybe this demonstrates why. Efforts have been made to remove any personal data from the results, such as the actual phone numbers, surnames, etc. The data is still easily accessible from the API, the filters have been put in place to protect the site from legal issues.

He went on to tell CNN that he put up the site to raise awareness about blithe oversharing, given how "shocked" he was to see what people reveal in their public Facebook posts:

"I created the website to make people aware of the issues that it creates when they post such information on Facebook without any privacy settings enabled. The people featured on the site are most likely not aware that what they post as 'public' can be seen by absolutely anybody, and that Facebook will happily give away this information to other websites via its Graph API."

We know what you're doing isn't the first social media aggregator launched with the express purpose of showing how people don't think before posting.

Please Rob Me is one such. Launched in Feburary 2010, the site uses checkin data from the location-based Foursquare social network that's subsequently posted to Twitter.

PleaseRobMe

When the information becomes publicly available on Twitter, it makes it theoretically possible for a robber to know when you're away from home, one of the founders, Boy van Amstel, told Time.

Well, maybe it was theoretical when they launched the site, but it's sure not theoretical now.

That was evidenced on Sunday, when the Associated Press reported that two burglars in Anderson, SC, broke into the homes of friends after reading their Facebook updates to find out when they'd be away from home.

Hangover. Image from ShutterstockIf you post updates publicly, your boss can read your rants. Potential or current employers have a harbor-front seat to whatever flavor of debauchery floats your boat. Stalkers and con artists can get your phone number.

At the very least, people have got to start paying attention to Facebook's privacy settings. This isn't Facebook's fault, after all.

If you don't want to show up on Please Rob Me or on We know what you're doing, just go to https://www.facebook.com/settings/?tab=privacy and make sure the Control Your Privacy setting isn't "Public."

As Haywood says on his site, you can set it to "Friends." But as the SC burglary makes clear, even that's no guarantee that you're protected.

Be careful whom you friend on Facebook. Be selective about your privacy settings, using Custom settings to ensure that questionable Friends won't see when you're away from home.

And a quick note for all the truly sad, anguished people posting publicly on Facebook: Waddah Z., congratulations on overcoming your cannabis addiction. Kevin M., I'm sorry for the loss of your father.

I hope that this public sharing of your updates doesn't worsen your situations.

Namaste. May things get better for you.

If you want to learn more about privacy and security threats on Facebook and elsewhere on the internet, join the Sophos Facebook page.

Lazy young femalek image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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46 Responses to Truly embarrassing Facebook status updates exposed by website

  1. trudy · 797 days ago

    what i dont understand how do these bosses have time to check fb everyday.when there ment to be working them selfs .that is so wrong .what people speak about on fb or twitter should be private and not for thoes .who acts like big brother ,thats creepy .and were is the free speach .? its becoming like aload of stalkers and spies .big mistake making pc and laptops .

    • gec · 797 days ago

      When do you have time to read FB? By your own logic there is no chance to do so during the day. OR, they read it in the evening or during lunch breaks etc.

      Here is another view of this article though. Most of us, in our contracts, will have a clause about bringing the company into disrepute through our own actions, etc. So, you are on Facebook, have identified your employer in your profile, and then you slag them off in a status update. That is about the same as running into the street and swearing about them too, and is grounds for dismissal, especially if you have also "friended" your boss on your page.

      This isn't big brother, this is using a common sense filter about what you are thinking being and considering that it is being written down for the world to read. There are other ways to approach this. Bad day at the office? Be general, and then tell your friends in confidence at the pub after work.

    • I think that the point of the article and this app is that all these posts are *public*. If people do not want them to be *public* then they should set their privacy settings accordingly.

      As to having time to do this - well, there are plenty of apps that will deliver the info to you (especially if you can narrow this to a set list of names - such as those being interviewed for the job you are advertising).

    • Deon · 797 days ago

      Posting things with public security settings on Facebook is like saying it out loud at the shops. You never know who will hear you. Anyone who does this, and is bad-mouthing a boss, deserves it if they find out.

      Facebook even labels each of your posts with a little "world" or "people" icon depending on your security settings. Are people so oblivious?

    • likeiwouldputit · 797 days ago

      big mistake on dumb ass people PC's and Laptops. they should learn to read what is out there. it's free speech alright that's what FB and the rest of the social media are doing right now they are posting your stuff online for everybody to see. bosses don't necessarily scroll fb about it, but you're not the only employee there.

      it's not the technology's fault nor the social media.. social media tends to be social by sharing it.. now posting your drunk or your defamatory comments about your boss is just pure idiocy.

    • Debryden · 797 days ago

      Trudy,
      As far as bosses, I think the problem often turns up when someone else points a negative post out to the boss. I don't know any bosses who spend a lot of time searching unless they have a reason to know there are some negative things out there.
      But I also think you are wrong when you say that what people say on fb and twitter should be private . . . . It is your choice whether to post on a public site, and if you do, you should be prepared for the consequences. There are plenty of ways to send private comments.
      On the other hand, people who post when they are leaving town, or other private information that could be used for ID theft, etc could be victims of those who do find it profitable to search methodically, and have time to do so, because it can have a good return with what they steal.

    • John · 797 days ago

      Free speech is not the issue nor is "big brother" type surveillance. You cannot dis your boss and still work for him/her. Simple.

      • Anon · 796 days ago

        They don't demand to monitor your conversations by forcing you to wear a tape recorder when off work so why should they have the right monitor your social networking accounts outside of work?

        It is a free speech thing.

        • ...except they don't demand you post things on an international forum where they can monitor them either.

          Unless you're in a union, saying negative things about your boss/company where anyone in the world can hear/read it and where it will be automatically aggregated and fed to many people whether they were interested in your opinion or not doesn't have to do with rights -- it has to do with choice.

          People who say things in a public forum have the right to do so. They also have the responsibility to deal with the consequences, whether those be job termination, libel suits, unsavoury people knowing where they are and what they're doing, etc.

          As far as free speech goes: what right does an individual have to censor what their employer can read about them in a public forum?

          The general rule is: if you don't want the world (including bosses, thieves, tabloids, significant others) to find out, don't put it on the Internet. If you MUST put it on the internet, at least lock it down as much as you can, and prepare for the day it will become public knowledge.

    • Kris · 774 days ago

      You ain't just whistling Dixie that's for sure!!! That how I'm feeling right now ! I totally understand where you'e coming from!!! Our FB and Twitter should be our personal business..what we write on there is of no concern to/for anyone else!!!

    • Elena Michell Sutter · 718 days ago

      Trudy, Free speech only applies to you being able to speak out and OUR (American, just in case you are not from America) government not being able to sanction you for it. Your employer does not have to tolerate any childish tirades, or your opinions, if you do not like this, I suggest you take a job somewhere else. The only free speech protected at the work place is under the Whistle Blower law. And even then there are ways around that. Just keep your social media "social", wait until you get home and blurt it all out to your Mother, or best friend (if she or he doe NOT work for your company. There, all fixed. BTW, bosses can check up on your computer usage, and look to see if you are keeping up with FB or Twitter on company time and then punish you for it. Another thing, Twitter and FB being private is just laughable!! You need to think about that statement a bit, before posting ever again!! Good Luck.

    • Katiedidn't · 498 days ago

      If you want it to be private, you don't post it to a public forum. That's just DUMB!

  2. Wee · 797 days ago

    I can't even begin to form a reply to the above. It's just too hard to be civil.

  3. amy · 797 days ago

    I got fired for making a vague negative post about work environment because one of my 'friends' (former coworkers) SENT it to my boss. So even if it's not Public, if someone is vindictive enough, they can screen-capture it and send it to others to get you in trouble.

  4. Denny · 797 days ago

    Trudy, it's simple: don't post something public if you don't want it to be public.

    Simple as that. Not really that hard, right?

  5. pduran · 797 days ago

    Part of the job of a boss is people management. Companies that place importance on the reputation and image of the company will make sure that they have employees that represent them with maturity.

    You have free speech. You can walk into his office and call him a big steaming pile of !@#!@. Then, he can fire you. No one is going to put you in handcuffs and you wont get a summons to court to testify for your crimes of speech, because you have free speech. You appear to think freedom of speech means no consequences for your actions and that is not the case. Friends can stop liking you, bosses can fire you. People can refuse to serve you because of what you say, but no one is going to haul you away in the back of a police car.

    • You make a good point. So many people confuse free speech with being able to say what they want without consequences. (like getting fired)

    • JustAcomment · 307 days ago

      Thank you. This is Exactly what I wanted to say! :D

  6. Eric Ericson · 797 days ago

    um... what's an SC...?

    • debsanswers · 797 days ago

      Do you mean where it says Anderson, SC? That's South Carolina.

  7. Ips · 797 days ago

    @trudy: It is not other people's responsibility to keep your data private....If a theft happens in your house, do you blame the neighbor for not locking your door?

  8. Hermanio · 797 days ago

    If you don't have anything smart to say then keep it to yourself because you'll never know when it will backfire.

  9. snert · 797 days ago

    You know what those bosses are doing? They're keeping tabs on us to make sure we're good little boys and girls. Who wants anybody working for them that comes to work hungover or threatens to kill them?
    I thought the idea behind Twitter was to get a bunch of people to read what you post and be careful who you Friend on FB. Public statements are PUBLIC. You want it private, don't post it.

  10. Richard · 797 days ago

    The flip side is to deliberately post things you _want_ any future employer to see. You can create one persona in public and another in private.

    Re: Trudy - set your privacy settings on the applications to paranoid. On Facebook that's "Friends Only", and don't accept friend requests from just anyone who asks. Facebook has other settings which restrict access through the Graph API used here, under "What can be shared with applications". I don't use applications, so have set this to nothing.

  11. caroletheriault · 797 days ago

    Great lead pic. Love it.

  12. someone · 797 days ago

    The real issue here is that people do not, or only partly, understand the technology that they are using. They do not realize the problems they are causing for themselves by making statements like this public. I agree with you on the free speech, but think about this, would you say that you hate your boss if he would be standing near you?

  13. Zak · 797 days ago

    It's also worthwhile remembering that employers will often run a google search on your name when you apply for a job. What they find can be as influential as your CV/Resume. If they find a selection of Facebook statuses and tweets about how drunk/stoned you were last weekend I wouldn't be expecting to get the job!

    A google search for my full name links to my Facebook which is completely hidden from public and a bunch of chess competition results. Then there's some surgeon with the same name as me who hogs the rest of the results. I'd say that's a favourable result for me!

    Try googling your own name and see what your future employer might see!

  14. andrew · 797 days ago

    three very simple words.

    Use common sense.

    • my2sense · 795 days ago

      To quote Mark Twain - "if common sense were all that common, don't you think there'd be more of it around ?"

  15. Jamie · 797 days ago

    Little true story.

    I don't have facebook, but I have a Tumblr. Nowhere did I ever mention the company I work for. I wrote that I disliked having worked very hard on a project which was far outside of my paygrade, and despite promises of a payrise following passing qualifications, that payrise never happened.

    All I said on my Tumblr, was that I "liked where I was working" however there were "aspects which made me very unhappy" specifically relating to them "paying you @$%& money" while "putting you under immense workloads" and continually "insulting and belitting you". Plus zero benefits, and the lowest legal holiday entitlement. So you could understand why I vented on what i thought was my one "safe place"..

    Now what annoys me is that I had worked at this specific company for 11 months and 3 weeks - just a few days short of the protection of statutory protection in the UK from unfair dismissal, which I would have won had this gone to a tribunal.

    This company, the disrespecting management team thought it would be funny to try and stalk me online and get information they could use to mock me even further in the office. And instead they stumbled across me saying that I didn't like some aspects of the job and an almost resentment for progressing further than expected and yet still being very underpaid in my industry. Basically I was a wireless and VOIP field engineer being paid £15,000... !!

    Now they turned it into a case of gross misconduct and fired me for it. For me it worked out as I got a mega payrise at my new company over what I was on, plus effectively 40 days holiday, pension and RESPECT.

    The lesson though is that, although the company may deserve your rantings, if it's out there in public there is always a chance it might come back to get you and cause issues..

  16. And the kid is just 18, wow! This is inspiring!

  17. Mrs. W · 797 days ago

    Have you seen the things people post on Twitter under their real names, fully knowing the platform is public? No, not the people you follow, most of whom (I'm guessing) work in professional roles or hope to. I'm talking about all the people, which is a much broader demographic.

    Go on, do a search on any of these terms on Twitter, and you'll find the same thing you do on Facebook. And Twitter is a platform that does not even require the use of real names, as Facebook does.

    Sadly, many people only care about protecting their personae retroactively, after they fall afoul of their employers, law enforcement, or other entities. If they will tell it to Twitter anyway, advising them to tweak their Facebook settings isn't going to make a lick of difference.

    While regular Naked Security readers no doubt care about proactively protecting their public personae, I suspect most do so simply through not engaging in said behavior, or, if they do, not announcing their hangover status or pot-smoking habits on social media, rather than controlling access through Facebook's pseudo-privacy settings.

  18. Tarasmum · 794 days ago

    it's all gone mad I put a perfectly innocent post on Fb and I am now facing a disciplinary for it, no workplace or persons name mentioned but they are trying to get me on defame and something else. How the f*** can they do that with no names mentioned? Just hoping my Union rep can sort it out, or I may lose the job I love!

  19. Guest · 783 days ago

    The whole getting fired because of facebook is getting out of hand.

    People have a right to an opinion. If I say to a coworker "I hate my job", should I be fired? If I post on Facebook or Twitter "I hate my job", Should I be fired? No.

    If I'm stupid enough to post to facebook "Hahaha, I stole 2000 from work in the last week", then sure... along with other evidence. THAT's a crime.

    But people who vent their frustrations on facebook should be allowed to do so... Just as those that vent their frustrations to family, friends or coworks are allowed to do so.

    • JustAcomment · 307 days ago

      Look at what you are saying.

      You are comparing Facebook with "family, friends or coworkers".

      It is not that safe place that you think it is, it is the street. It is totally public. Even if you set your settings to private, it is still a public forum. Putting your settings to private is like trying to whisper in public. It's still public.

      Do you vent your frustrations in the street?

      No you don't. You vent them in private to people that are close to you, such as family, friends or coworkers. There is nothing wrong with that and it is how it should be.

      You just need to realise Facebook is not your private place. It is every ones public place.

      And sure, you are entitled to your opinion, just like every one is entitled to be offended by your opinion, or to call the police on you because of your opinion, or to fire you because of your opinion.

      Being entitled to have an opinion does not mean without consequence or regard. You are also responsible for your opinion.

  20. James · 778 days ago

    Its not up to you if you "should " be fired. It's up to the boss. If it was up to you, you'd be the boss, but you're not. a boss can , and should be able to fire you for what ever reason they feel will make the company better. That's their job. If you don't agree with it, then you werent a good fit for the job in the first place.

  21. kris · 774 days ago

    No @hacker...this is a grown man!!!

  22. Dave Feland · 763 days ago

    Consider all this from the boss's point of view for a moment. He's protecting the public perception of his company. If someone in his employ puts that at risk, it has real consequences to their bottom line. And it's not just money-grubbing - if it's a publically traded company, he has a responsibility to the stockholders - when the stock price falls. Internet memes being what they are, one simple post can blow up into an international incident in a matter of hours.

    So if it's your post, what's the boss to do? They monitor your posts to PREVENT these things from happening. And your speech at work is never free - you're using the company's computers, networks, internet connections... of course you're liable, and you will be fired. If I owned stock in your company, I'd expect nothing else.

  23. @IMBabbs · 742 days ago

    Might I suggest if you treat facebook posts as if you were standing right there in the same room as the person you may be speaking about? After all if you are placing your own pictures, locations and full name on anything you should realize that those who do know you will find out what you say and do on that account not just as they would if you spoke it but with proof that you were the one who posted such.

  24. guest · 729 days ago

    Just because someone is your boss, it does not give them the moral and often also the legal right to fire you for "free speech", even if it negatively affects their comapnies reputation.

    Is firing for a Facebook post it necessary, reasonable and proportionate?

    If not it is definitely immoral and probably illegal.

  25. Michael · 708 days ago

    very easy to do, heres a page i knocked up in 5 mins
    http://haggistech.co.uk/twitter.php

  26. Guest · 676 days ago

    Here's what I do. I set my privacy settings to Only Me. And then I forget about it.

  27. thehouseinbury · 634 days ago

    This site is garbage, it is just posting anything set to public and lamely categorising them under one of it's headings. Callum Heywood is a moneygrabber with no imagination, he's not on some mission to educate, he's exposing all kinds of innocuous statuses for the sake of his advertising revenue and the notion that he'll get a career out of being an internet smartarse.

  28. ed wolf · 589 days ago

    I have fired people for their public posts. When I read "so and so" stole X from my store when I was not looking; or, someone rang up an item at a lower price for a friend, that is theft.

    I let them go but was very tempted to file charges on them for their theft. I was one of the first to embrace social media and I use it for hiring and firing as well as marketing. Keep your personal embarrassing comments to yourself if you do not want the world to know.

  29. Bill Hunter · 483 days ago

    I just found this interesting piece.

    OK, how about this, for all you people saying free speech is free speech and you shouldn't be sacked for it, by the way, I'm not a boss but if I were I would sack people for belittling my company.
    How about you open your Facebook page one day and you see it there in black and white. Your boss telling everyone, I wish I could sack Jim X, he's a lazy good-for-nothing idiot and comes in to work late and hungover far too often. He's too stupid to do the simplest of tasks, he's basically a waste of time.
    Now, when you think of your response, don't forget you have given your boss freedom of speech, but the vast majority would be running to their union rep in tears.
    If I was a boss, I'd want and need total respect otherwise my business would fail. If you don't like your boss and job, pick up your lunch bag and go!

  30. Mark D · 375 days ago

    Social Media is more of a liability than it is worth. My version is having a home brew on the deck in my backyard with my friends that I can speak to face to face. Much more thoughtful, meaningful & the BBQ is much better!

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.