The setting that’s easy for you to overlook.
Facebook is doing what you, or the original poster, told it to do.
And it’s really easy to overlook what you’re telling Facebook to do.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Making unavailable posts available
Each post you make has its own visibility setting. Visibility includes public, friends, friends-of-friends, and more. If it’s set to something less than public, then people who are not included will see your post as “unavailable”. The catch is that each new post inherits the previous visibility setting. If you set a post to be visible to only a restricted audience, then the next post you make will default to that same restriction unless you change it. You can change the visibility of posts you’ve already made to restrict access, or allow others to see them.
Facebook post visibility
To understand why posts are not be visible to everyone, we need to look at the options available when you create a new Facebook post — specifically what I’ll refer to as visibility.
In the example above, when you’re about to make a new post from the desktop version of Facebook, you can set who is allowed to see the post (as well as whether that post should be on your timeline or as part of your “story”). The setting above has defaulted to “Public”, meaning the post is visible to absolutely anyone and everyone.
If I click on that, it expands to a drop-down list of other options.
There’s actually a wide variety of choices, but the most common is the second: Friends. If this is selected, only your friends will see this post, and no one else. Those who are not your friends won’t get an error message; they simply won’t see the post.
Important: the default setting for this — Public, Friends, or something else — is whatever you chose for your last post. If you post something only to your friends, your next post will default to that same setting. If you want it to be public, you need to change it back.
Visibility of existing posts
You can check what the visibility of any post.
In the example above, the post is public, indicated by the globe icon. The most common other icons are the silhouette of two people (indicating that the post is shared with a restricted audience), or a gear icon (which indicates a more complex sharing rule).
If it’s your post, you can change the visibility by clicking that icon.
You can change the visibility of a post you’ve made pretty much any time.
You cannot change the visibility of the posts of others — and that’s where things get interesting.
Sharing someone else’s post
Sharing someone else’s post does not change who can see it. That’s actually an important part of privacy on Facebook; if you made a post shared only to your friends, you don’t want anyone else outside of the circle to have access to it.1
Here’s a post made by a friend of mine. She set it to be seen only by her friends.
I can share this post if I like, but here’s the catch: even if I share the post, my share will still be restricted to only her friends. In other words, the only people who will see my share of her post are the friends we have in common.
That’s probably not what I intended, since her friends already saw it2. I wanted to share this with my friends.
I cannot. That would share the post outside of the limits specified by the original poster. The only options are to live with that or ask the original poster to make her post public, at which point my share of that post will take on the visibility that I specify.
Sharing into a group
The most common failure I see is this:
- A friend makes a post and it appears on your timeline.
- You share that post to a Facebook group you belong to.
- You didn’t notice that the friend set visibility to “friends only”.
- The post appears in the Facebook group, but with an “unavailable” error for everyone who isn’t a friend of your friend.
You have two options:
- Remove your share of the post. It didn’t work.
- Ask the original poster to make the post public, at which point the error will go away.
Content or attachment unavailable
An “unavailable” message can also happen when an original post is deleted. You share a post from a friend, for example, and that friend later deletes the post.
But by far the most common cause is that the original poster placed limitations on who was allowed to see it, and your sharing of that post tried to expose it to a larger audience.
Subscribe to Confident Computing! More confidence & less frustration -- solutions, answers, & tips -- in your inbox every week.
I'll see you there!