Facebook now lets you search everyone’s old posts – here’s how to stop it including yours

Facebook wants to be a news source, so it's made two trillion old posts searchable. 

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Until now, Facebook was pretty good about keeping your posts private. Even posts set to "public" were viewable only if someone found your profile –  and it's also relatively easy to make your own profile pretty much unsearchable on the site.

But all that is about to change.

Facebook has announced that it is rolling out a new, beefed-up search function, which will let you search all of its public content in one go. Search "New Statesman" or "Eastenders", and the site will soon mine all posts with "public" privacy settings to throw up any relevant posts. Whether this affects you has a lot to do with your privacy settings, as anyone with a draconian hold on their profile will have already set most posts to "private". But the change also affects posts from the past, when you may not have been so careful.

Facebook actually allowed you to search other users' posts before in a more limited way, and this feature's subsequent removal implied an increased concern for users' privacy. The return to the concept suggests that the site is keen to be treated as a news source, perhaps to compete more effectively with Twitter. Facebook already offers a "Trending" box, and a demo for the new search function suggests searching an event (the new evidence for water on Mars, for example) in order to see what people are posting about it. 

Of course, while "Martian" or "Rugby World Cup" could throw up your incisive commentary on current affairs, it could also bring up embarassing conversations you had with your mates, or a rant about a teacher courtesy of 14-year-old you. 

How to make your past posts private

Facebook lets you backdate all your posts in one go using its "limit past posts" option. This means that every post in the history of your Facebook account will be visible only to your Facebook friends, whether that be via the search function or on your profile.

First, go to the padlock icon in the top right hand corner of the screen and click "see more settings": 

Then click "limit past posts": 

And click "limit old posts" again:

If you don't feel the need for a total wipeout you can also change the privacy settings on individual posts. To check what might come up in the new Search, visit your own profile while you're not signed in – this should give you a good idea of which of your posts are private. 

Barbara Speed is comment editor at the i, and was technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman, and a staff writer at CityMetric.

Free trial CSS