Yesterday, Facebook found itself at the center of a privacy scandal that may have been much ado about nothing, after three French news outlets published reports that French users' private messages from 2008 and 2009 were showing up as public "wall" posts.
The story was quickly picked up by American tech blogs, but they couldn't seem to agree on the facts.
TechCrunch reporter Colleen Taylor didn't expressly confirm the French reports, but told her readers that the glitch appeared to be affecting her own and her friends' pages.
"I am currently seeing what appear to have been private messages on friends' Timelines," Taylor wrote. "My own Timeline also now is showing pre-2009 direct messages."
Gawker's Adrian Chen broached the subject with a bit more skepticism, but based on his own digging and the testimony of a friend, he thought there might be something to it as well.
"I was just able to read a Facebook friend's old correspondences with an ex-girlfriend from 2006-2008 on his Facebook Timeline. He assured me these were private messages, not wall posts," Chen wrote, following up with an obvious point. "If this bug is for real, it would be one of Facebook's biggest privacy scandals ever."
Emil Protalinski at TheNextWeb wrote, "Anna Heim, one of our reporters from France, confirmed that she is seeing the problem."
TheNextWeb's story was later updated to reflect Facebook's statement that it was "satisfied that there has been no breach of user privacy." But that was quickly followed up with another update 25 minutes later, which said readers, "pointing to addresses and phone numbers appearing on their Timeline, as well as showing up on their friends' Timelines, which would have only been sent as private messages," were finding Facebook's statement hard to believe."
The BBC 's story, which ran without a byline, led with French users' claims, but immediately followed them with Facebook's response: "The messages were older wall posts that had always been visible on the users' profile pages."
Another source inside Facebook told the London-based broadcaster that this type of issue wouldn't even be possible.
Patience pays off
Since the dust created by the outrage, excitement and upheaval over Facebook's almost-scandal has settled, the blogosphere once again seems to be in harmony: Everyone agrees that Facebook messages, in fact, never did migrate from a private inbox over to a user's wall.
The confusion for most people likely arose out of the drastic revamp the commenting and wall features underwent in 2009 when the "Like" button was added.
Pre-2009 Facebook did not support comments or "likes" on wall posts. Instead, users communicated on a topic with multiple posts on each others' walls, rather than in a single comment thread below a post as Facebook users see today.
Given the changes people perceive in how they present their online brand overtime, it's understandable that people would become alarmed to unearth an old conversation with no "likes" or comments on their wall.
TechCrunch’s Taylor originally headlined her story, "Facebook Users Report Seeing Old Private Messages Showing Up On Timelines As 'Posted By Friends,'" but the headline, along with the stor,y has since been replaced by an updated version: " Update: Facebook Confirms No Private Messages Appearing On Timeline. They're Old Wall Posts."
"TechCrunch has investigated more, and we have found no evidence that the allegedly exposed posts were actually private messages," Taylor's new story reads. "Our Facebook specialist Josh Constine found that email receipts show allegedly exposed messages were in fact Wall posts, and the posts do not appear in users' Facebook Messages inbox."
Although Facebook did nothing wrong, the company may have played a role in the uproar. The geographically focused freakout may have been the result of French users' compulsory switchover to Timeline, a new style of profile that organizes users' activity on the site chronologically.
The new interface makes delving into archived posts, conversations and photos much more straightforward. A Facebook spokesperson said France was the latest country to be switched over, Taylor noted in the updated post.
The Menlo Park, Calif.-based social network plans to move everyone over to the new profile soon.
Gizmodo's Sam Biddle probably summed up the situation it best as he pointed out that as time passes, our minds likes to move our memories' furniture around.
"People just can't remember what the hell they were saying years ago. We talk differently on Facebook now," Biddle said. "Wall posts from 2008 — which were always public — looked like something you might say privately today. We were more intimate, more formal, more message-y. We used salutations (!)."
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