Making Facebook a warmer, smaller space

Learning to control what Facebook shows, hides and shares can make the online service a more personable place.
BY TALI ARBEL Published: January 1, 2013
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A woman I haven't spoken to in six years is pregnant with her second son. A high school classmate likes to rant about politics. A college dormmate thinks he works too much.

On Facebook, I'm connected to a lot of people who are not my friends. Over the years, as my Facebook friend list grows, it's made me increasingly uncomfortable that I seem to know so much about people that I don't actually know.

So as the new year approached, I decided to review my Facebook life. I took a four-week break — a “Facebook Fast” — from the world's biggest online social network.

What did I learn? Sure, there are sleazy and annoying aspects to Facebook. After eight years on the network, I rely on it for pictures and news of faraway friends and relatives. I can't quit. .

Facebook Inc. is in the midst of trying to make its privacy policies more intuitive for users. It has added a little padlock icon at the top right of the website. When you click on it, Facebook walks you through how to change who sees what you post, who can contact you and how to review what others are writing about you.

But if you're trying to curate your Facebook life, there are more steps you need to take. Here are some tips for remaking the network so it's less a tabloid feed of unwanted updates and more a warmer, personal space that better reflects your real-life social circle.

Cut back on total time spent

I used to keep Facebook open on my work computer, checking in periodically throughout the day. I relied on the Facebook app on my phone to entertain me whenever I was waiting in line or riding in a taxi. I would also log in at home.

It was overkill. I check Facebook less often now. The goal: Read less and write more.

First, I disabled the app on my phone.

I also enabled email notifications for whenever someone sends me a message, tags me in a photo, or posts on my profile or in one of my groups. If someone's trying to get in touch with me, I still want to know and be able to respond. Because I get the notifications, I don't need to keep Facebook open at work or check on it constantly at home.

Here's how to get those notifications: Click on the wheel icon at the top right corner of Facebook and choose “privacy settings” on the menu that pops up. Then click on “notifications” on the left. Then, you can edit what Facebook sends you over email — as well as via texts and phone alerts.

Restrict access

I hate it when people send me personal messages by broadcasting it on my profile page, or timeline, for everyone to see. I'd rather that person send me an email or a private Facebook message that I alone could see. But many people still insist on posting such messages on my timeline anyway.

To address that, I effectively turned off my timeline. Someone can still post on it, but I've adjusted the settings so that person and I are the only ones who can see that note. I can still publicly share things that I want seen broadly, like a post I wrote promoting my sister's new yoga business. To make these adjustments, choose “privacy settings” under the wheel again. Then click on “timeline and tagging” on the left.



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