Taming Facebook


Dragged into Facebook? May I help?

I was very reluctant to use FB (Facebook) for a variety of reasons. Eventually a plurality of my friends moved onto FB and it was the only way of keeping in touch with these people I dearly love. This remains the only reason I use FB. I do not use it for the games and other applications. FB has a very awkward interface. I have learned a number of techniques to make FB easier to use. Using FB is hazardous to our privacy and online security. I have developed practices to mitigate its dangers. The purpose of this document is to pass on what I've learned in making my peace with FB. I don't know your situation well enough to tell you what to do - all I can do is tell you what I've done and why and encourage you to discover how to apply it to meet your needs. This document is a draft and I would love to receive feedback on how to improve it and also useful things to add to it!

Facebook is Dangerous!

The Facebook Organization has no regard whatsoever for our privacy or our security. Their FB system tells us to use our real name when we create our account and they constantly urge us to put more and more of our personal information into our profile, into their applications and into their partners' applications. The FB system is designed to make it very hard to secure our information from strangers and predators. After we carefully edit all of our account settings to be somewhat secure, they add new features which leak our information. FB does not inform us of the new features or ask our permission first, they do not follow an opt-in policy. We don't know what has happened until someone in the vast community of FB users figures it out and then passes the word along through FB Friends networks. By the time we can edit the new setting to plug the leak our private information can be anywhere.

Taming Facebook: Some Precautions

Don't use your real name online outside of business!

The first and most basic precaution when using FB is "Don't use your real name for your account and don't put any information in your profile, on anyone's wall or in your Status Updates which would allow a stranger to connect your FB account with your identity in the real world or any online information related to who you are in the real world such as your business or profession." Go read this now for essential background on maintaining separate identities online ... OK, now that you know the basics, I'll tell you how I applied this idea to FB.

I have three Facebook Accounts, one I never use!

My Find-Me FB Account is under my real name. It has a profile which describes me for the benefit of someone I might have done business with or gone to school with who might be trying to find me, so the schooling and employment information is detailed and correct. And it says right up front that it is only a placeholder account. Nothing is written on its wall and it has no FB Friends. Instead it provides a link to my business website (not on FB) and directs anyone who wants to (re-)connect with me socially to send me a message - and to please remind me in that message how I know them. I will get that message via email and I can then decide to let that person know what my actual FB account is, and let them know the etiquette of not mixing my identity online.

My Primary Facebook Account connects me to all of my Friends.

The profile is carefully designed to let my FB Friends know about my interests and passions but not when I went to which schools, who exactly I've worked for or other information which would tell strangers too much and which is really irrelevant to my FB Friends. I am free to express myself any way I please on this FB account without worrying too much about it being taken out of context by some potential employer or other stranger who knows me in the real world or in the online business world. My birth DAY is correct, but the year is slightly off - and not shared. The information in my Primary FB account is either restricted to visibility by FB Friends or Friends-Of-Friends.

Special-Interest Accounts should not use my real name either.

I have some technical interests which some of my FB Friends share and which other of my FB Friends would probably find quite boring. My third FB Account is specifically for that subset of my FB Friends who share my technical interests. It is linked to my Primary Account as a FB Friend and as a Sibling, so that all of my FB Friends can see it. Those FB Friends who share my interests generally Friend both Accounts. I can therefore freely engage in long and detailed Status Updates and Comment Threads on my Special-Interest Account without worrying about boring my other FB Friends or being interrupted by silly comments from those who have missed the point. Having this Special-Interest Account has been very liberating for my self-expression!

Lock down your account(s)!

Be sure to lock down all of your accounts against being used by hostile others or FB Application Platforms. You can find some good information on how to do that here . You probably want to lock down your social account(s) from visibility by strangers. I have chosen to leave my special-interest account visible as I want to attract strangers with similar interests.

Avoid using Facebook as a game or application platform!

The games and applications on FB are designed to get you to spend all of your online time just on FB and they all leak information to advertisers and other strangers. There is much better content out in the rest of the web. I recommend turning off all FB games and application platforms when you go through your FB account settings and any time you are asked to turn them on, just click no! When I get a Status Update from one of my FB Friend's games or applications, I click the X icon on that item and select the option to filter out any Status Updates from that application - I want to be in touch with my friends, not with some stupid piece of software!

Tips for making Facebook work well

Create Lists to "Group" your Friends

I have a FB List for all of my FB Friends who are in my geographical area. My FB Friends belong to various interest groups and sub-communities, so I've created FB Lists for all of those and put those FB Friends into the appropriate Lists. Most of my FB Friends wind up in more than one of these "subset" lists. These FB Lists are handy when I want to send a message or an invitation or restrict a Status Update to a subset of my FB Friends.

Group your Friends with nested Circle Lists

I have too many FB Friends to read everyone's Status Updates every day and the way FB chooses what to show me by default makes no sense to me. I've created "Circle" lists to organize my FB Friends by how often I want to check their activity. These Circle Lists have proven to be the most useful thing I've done to make FB work well for me! All of my FB Friends are in one or more the the FB Lists Circle1, Circle2 or Circle3. My Circle Lists "Nest", that is: List Circle3 includes everyone in List Circle2 and List Circle2 includes everyone who is in List Circle1.

Circle1: The Friends to always follow

In List Circle1 I have my closest FB Friends and anyone I'm currently working on projects with. When I'm in a hurry I only look at status updates from List Circle1. I can casually remove someone from this FB List since they are still in List Circle2.

Circle2: The Friends to usually follow

In List Circle2 I also have my FB Friends who I generally like to keep track of, but whose status updates are not as critical to track as those of my FB Friends in List Circle1. Normally when I get on FB I look at updates from List Circle2. I can casually remove someone from this category without losing them, or I can add them to List Circle1 if I want to be sure I see their updates as often as possible.

Circle2: The Friends to occasionally follow

In List Circle3 I also have those acquaintances who are less close. These include Friends-Of-Friends who it is good to keep loosely up-to-date with but who are too chatty to read everything they post. From time to time when I want a break from being productive I like to read updates from everybody in List Circle3 - which is all of my real FB Friends - excepting the pseudo-friends that are really organizations, groups or businesses.

Last words

I look forward to being able to use better social networking systems in the future. There are a number of systems which are better than FB for both usability and security - but FB has the advantage of numbers. With half a billion people using FB and the number increasing every day, a competing system will have to interoperate with FB to be a real alternative. A few last words for increasing your security: Avoid using Microsoft's Internet Explorer with Facebook or for browsing the web in general as it tends to be much less secure than, e.g. Firefox or Google Chrome. For the same reason, consider using Gnu/Linux instead of a proprietary Operating System. You may want to read my other article on that subject.

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