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5 Tips for Using Facebook Smarter and Less Stupidly

Rob Walker

5 Tips for Using Facebook Smarter and Less Stupidly

Let’s say you follow my advice to cope with having too many Facebook friends by learning to selectively ignore the ones you don’t care about, instead of going on an unfriending spree.

Obviously there’s another side to the issue: What about “friends” you’d prefer to hide from?

Again, I think there are easier solutions than a time-consuming and unpleasant friend massacre to maintain the social-signal function of Facebook — and your privacy.

1. By all means, do not be friends with actual enemies. Just for the record, it is in fact a good idea to unfriend anyone you believe might have actual, active, visceral ill will toward you. This shouldn’t require any special effort on your part. Nasty breakup? Lawsuit? Grounds for unfriending.

2. Pay attention to who can see what you post. Apparently this is such a problem that even Facebook is preparing changes to make it easier for members to avoid “accidental oversharing.”

But even now it’s not all that hard to, at a minimum, make sure you’re not sharing every post with the public at large. Click the Privacy Shortcuts icon at the top left of your home page and choose Who can see my stuff? At a minimum, make the default Friends. (Not Public.)

You can change this for every status update if you want, and specify that any given update be made visible only to a particular list of friends. If you want to devote the time to it, you can structure a system that will result in some of your “friends” seeing absolutely nothing you post.

3. Just don’t say anything stupid! Frankly, I am not interested in such a granular approach to picking and choosing the audience for every Facebook utterance.

A more efficient strategy: Permanently limit your audience to friends, and just don’t say anything on Facebook that would be harmful to you or anyone else if the entire Internet ended up seeing it. Do not complain about your job, do not trash acquaintances, do not make off-color remarks.

If you want to say something genuinely private, don’t say it on Facebook.

4. Avoid arguments. What’s that? Someone is wrong on the Internet? Ignore it. Do not weigh in with a snarky rebuttal. You will not win the argument; you will escalate it. People will get emotional. Stupid things will be said.

Sure, you think it’s your moral duty to correct an erroneous analysis of Obamacare. But guess what? You are not Batman! So just pretend you didn’t see it, and let somebody else step in and stoke a pointless flame war.

5. Don’t overshare with Facebook itself. Facebook has many, many questions for me: Where did I grow up, what are my favorite bands and movies, and so on.

My friends do not have these questions. Those who care to know are quite aware of where I grew up, and even those who don’t care have heard me go on about The Kinks and Stranger Than Paradise. There’s really no logical reason to disclose this sort of thing unless you are, in fact, somehow attempting to send signals that attract more “friends” who don’t actually know you. (In which case, you can hardly complain about having friends you don’t really know!)

Just ignore all that. Facebook really wants to know more about you because that helps its advertising business target better. And I don’t particularly care how Facebook wants me to use Facebook. Do you?