By Anick Jesdanun
Given how quickly Facebook changes its features and settings and how easily many of us
add people to our lists of friends, it’s good to take stock of Facebook from time to time.
Here’s one way to sum up 2011: I added 71 people as Facebook friends, shared 26 links and commented on 98 of my friends’ status updates. I was tagged in 33 photos and added 18 of my own to the site.
I also attempted to keep up with Facebook’s endless redesigns, most recently with the introduction of Timeline. With it, your Facebook profile offers highlights from your past, not just your recent happenings. Last week, I urged all of you to carefully curate your Timelines to avoid coming across as vain or revealing forgotten skeletons.
This week, I will go through other ways to manage your life on Facebook.
It’s good to take stock of your Facebook presence from time to time, given how quickly the site changes its features and settings and how easily many of us add people to our lists of friends. Even if you haven’t switched to Timeline yet, you can still follow these steps to review what you’re really revealing about yourself.
WHO ARE YOUR FRIENDS?
In the early days, I was very judicious about whom I accepted as Facebook friends. People I hadn’t met in person, relatives I hadn’t spoken to in years and friends who simply annoyed me didn’t make the cut. Now, my friends list includes people I haven’t been in touch with since college and others I met only once at a party, wedding or trip.
Do all of them need to know — or even care — that I started watching “How I Met Your Mother” or ate an undercooked hot dog at 3 a.m.? Should they see photos of me at a recent holiday bash?
Now is a good time to go through your friends list to see who ought to disappear. A friend’s significant other long after they broke up? An acquaintance who has 1,000 friends and never interacts with you on Facebook? People who tighten their privacy settings so much that you see no more than any stranger would?
Gone, goodbye, nice to know you. Facebook won’t alert the friends you drop.
ALL FRIENDS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
You may want to share an ultrasound of your fetus only with family members, or share party photos with close friends. Other rants and milestones may be appropriate for everyone.
Facebook has new tools to make it easier to create subgroups such as family and co-workers. Start by going to “lists” on the left side of your Facebook home page (you may have to click on “more” to see it).
Facebook had automatically added 103 of my friends to a “New York Area” list and suggested dozens of others who hadn’t told Facebook their location. The suggestions were surprisingly accurate; the inaccurate ones were for those who used to live in New York but have moved on. I added 31 so that I can broadcast New York happenings only to them and spare my Californian and European friends.
Next came “Close Friends.” Again, the tool was pretty good at suggesting people with whom I have interacted the most, online and offline. One factor is whether you’ve appeared in photos together. Facebook won’t reveal who made your list of close friends, so don’t worry about keeping people off.
I went through a similar exercise for “Family,” choosing to include only the closer ones I’d share more with. In this case, those you’re adding will be told, so if you don’t want that known, create a new list rather use the one Facebook already set up.
To do that, click “lists,” then “Create List.” I added one for cousins, two for college, one for work, one for my running group and one for those I still see from my days in Washington.
Some people are in multiple groups, others in none. These lists make it easier to share posts with only a subset of my Facebook friends. I can also use the lists to see only posts from specific groups.
Facebook also has a “Restricted” list where you can dump those you don’t want to share much with. Facebook promises not to reveal who gets added.
WHAT ARE YOU HARING?
Update your biographical information. The current city is important because it’s what Facebook uses to create the list of nearby friends. Now is also the time to say if your work has changed or if you no longer want your birthday revealed.
Look for the globe icon if you want to share certain details only with certain people, such as friends of friends or those on one of your lists.
You should also go through your lists of favorite books, music and TV shows. Replace Milli Vanilli with Justin Bieber if you want to seem youthful and hip.
While you’re at it, pare down the companies and products you’ve decided to “like” over the years. Be careful about what you’re endorsing. Facebook may use your name and profile photo next to ads that your friends see. So if you’ve liked Target’s page, for example, your friends could see your photo next to an ad from Target.
CONTROLLING WHAT YOU SHARE
Look for the arrow at the upper left corner and select “Account Settings.”
Begin with “General” on the left and check to make sure everything’s up to date. Click “Edit” if you need to change anything such as your email address.
Then go one by one down the list on your left. If you’re not sure what something is, click “Edit” for details. Under “Apps,” get rid of apps you no longer use so that they will no longer have access to your data. Under “Notifications,” choose what types of activities Facebook sends you alerts on.
After that, go back to that arrow and select “Privacy Settings.”
Under “How You Connect,” you can make it more difficult for people to reach you by restricting their ability to send you messages or make friend requests. You can also prevent people from posting on your profile. You can tweak “How Tags Work” and insist on reviewing photos or posts others tag you in before they appear on your profile. In most cases, you can find out more about what’s happening by clicking on the item.
Finally, think about whether you want your list of friends visible to strangers on Facebook. If you have switched to Timeline, click on “See All” within your box of friends, then click “Edit” to narrow who sees it. For traditional profiles, hover over the friends box and click on the pencil that emerges. Then click on the globe next to your friends.
CHECKING IT TWICE
Test how others see your profile by going to “View As...” at the top of the profile. Those with Timeline should first click the wheel next to “Activity Log.” Enter the name of a close friend, a co-worker or a random acquaintance to make sure no one is seeing too much. Click “public” to see how everyone else sees the profile.
Facebook changes so often, so don’t be surprised that by the time you figure it all out, the service unveils another redesign that may affect what you’ve already done. There used to be a way to prevent everyone from sending you friend requests, for instance. I’m now limited to blocking specific individuals.
It’s good to go through this exercise on a regular basis — annually, quarterly or more often if you can. Be mindful that Facebook pushes for more openness, so the restrictions available today might be gone tomorrow.
By Anick Jesdanun