by C.G. Lynch

Facebook How-To Tip: Do Damage Control on Unwanted Photos

Oct 16, 20084 mins
Consumer Electronics

While it's easy to control what information ends up on your Facebook profile, you can't control someone from posting a photo of you (even the not so flattering ones). In this Facebook tip of the week, we look at how you can minimize the damage.

On Facebook, many people struggle with online reputation management, as they balance their personal and professional lives. They find their “friend” lists populated with both personal friends as well as colleagues and bosses. The good news: Because Facebook has remarkably granular privacy settings, you can control what people see on your profile.


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But just like a celebrity being followed by determined Hollywood paparazzi, there is one thing you can’t control as a Facebook user: a picture that a friend takes and posts, tagging you by name, whether you like it or not.

The standard for getting a Facebook picture removed entirely is a hard hurdle to jump: the social network will not take a picture down unless it violates the company’s terms of use for uploading content. In the company’s own words, that means you can’t do the following:

“upload, post, transmit, share, store or otherwise make available any content that we deem to be harmful, threatening, unlawful, defamatory, infringing, abusive, inflammatory, harassing, vulgar, obscene, fraudulent, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable.”

In other words, just because you aren’t thrilled that there’s an incriminating picture of you partying with your friends posted to the site, Facebook isn’t likely to waste a lot of their time taking the picture down.

But don’t despair. You can hide behind the relative anonymity of the 10 billion photos that have been added to Facebook. When users upload photos, they typically tag the people in them. This allows for photos to become a viral element of Facebook: when you are tagged in a photo, that information is broadcasted to your friends’ newsfeeds, where they can click on it and view it.

If you’ve been tagged in a photo that you don’t find flattering, click on it. Once the picture appears, look beneath the bottom left side of the picture. Click on “remove tag” (see picture below) and people will no longer be broadcasted a message to their newsfeeds that prompts them to click on that photo.

Remove tag from a Facebook picture.
The “remove tag” option in the Facebook picture menu.

Once the tag is removed, your friends’ newsfeeds won’t have a notification that there is a picture of you. To see the picture, a friend would have to be industrious enough to explore the profile of the person who posted it (assuming he or she is a “friend” of that person) and then scroll through the album to find you.

This solution is by no means perfect, since by the time you log on and see you’ve been tagged some of your friends may have already been on Facebook; they may have seen the picture via their newsfeed before you removed the tag. But you can at least stop more people from getting the news.

It mostly comes down to users exercising goodwill. You don’t want the picture you post of a friend to be the reason he or she gets turned down for a job or tormented by office mates.

There’s one other option if a photo actually is offensive and you believe violates the terms of use. To the right of the photo, a menu gives you the option to tag a photo or “report this photo.”

Report a Facebook photo.
The “remove this photo” link, also on the picture menu, is reserved for photos that violate Facebook’s terms of use.

How responsive will Facebook be? According to Facebook’s photo help page, “Facebook will monitor these complaints and remove photos as necessary. All reports will be kept confidential.”

As a result, removing the tag is generally your best bet. If not, as Facebook also notes, you might want to rely on the goodness of your fellow users. Again, from their photo help page:

If you don’t want the photo to be shown at all, please talk to the person who posted it. They should be respectful enough to remove unwanted photos. Unfortunately, Facebook CANNOT make people remove photos that do not violate our terms of use.