Is there a safe, sane way to use Facebook (and/or other social media)?
July 28, 2020 12:09 PM   Subscribe

I haven't had a social media presence since I stopped using FB cold turkey over six years ago. Some sad recent events have led to me feel like I should do more to be connected with my extended family, and Facebook is one of the best ways I've come up with to do that. How can I use Facebook for nice "Hey, congrats on making the varsity team, niece!" moments while minimizing the invasiveness and general icky feeling of the platform in general?

Basically, I want to use Facebook, to stay up to date on what's going on with my extended family, let friends I haven't spoken to in a long time know I'm not dead, that sort of thing. As a person wno is too closed off from other people for my own good most of the time, this isn't exactly in my wheelhouse.

What choices do you all make to balance openness and privacy?

How can I make sure that I see things I actually care about while minimizing the things I don't want to see or consider a waste of time? I do want to see family pictures and stay up to date on accomplishments and life events, but I don't want to see... well, basically anything else.

I'm sure there are a lot of things I didn't even think to ask about, so I'd be appreciative of any advice in general.
posted by Chuck Barris to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This is incredibly difficult. Facebook designs its algorithm custom for each person so that you spend as much time on the site as possible. So, whatever you spend time reading and looking at, it will be sure to show you.

At the same time, the things you are looking for (life updates on extended family, etc) are huge dopamine rushes to your brain. You will start checking the site more often, from weekly, to daily, to multiple times a day.

However, there is ONE trick that can bypass the facebook algorithm: Keeping a folder of direct links to people's pages that you care about. If that sounds like a lot of work, it might be. But it's worth it.

For each of the family and friends you ACTUALLY care about, go to their profile, and bookmark their page. Add it to a folder on your bookmarks bar. Then, (I recommend once a month at a specific time, on a desktop PC) "open all" and see what's going on with your friends and family you care about. Maybe spend a minute scrolling down your favorite people.

Because of the insane algorithm, most of your friends and family on facebook don't post much, they just consume. Most of the people I know post or comment less than once a week, despite scrolling for 10+ hours. A few more "eager" family members might like or share something 10 times a day, but most of those won't end up on their home page.

I recommend also using a browser extension to block the "feed" entirely. These don't work on mobile, but for your own sanity, avoid logging in or downloading the app on your phone.

Maybe I'm harsher on facebook than most, but, the tenet of social media is that you end up comparing your everyday mundane life to their highlight reel that's been photoshopped. It's unhealthy. The ads are unhealthy. The groups and posts are usually unhealthy. And yet, that's where everyone is.

If you are worried about Privacy, you could use a different last name. However, facebook is quick to build a "secret profile" of you anyway, given your email address, friends, and phone number/other information. They link that to any other publicly available information, which is all available for ad targeting and law enforcement. Besides never going there in the first place, I would just treat all of your information on facebook as completely, 100% public.
posted by bbqturtle at 12:24 PM on July 28, 2020 [15 favorites]

Haven’t checked my privacy settings recently but last time I checked, I had it set to “friends only”. Additionally, excluded certain individuals from new posts.

I log in maybe once every few days, and just check in on family and friends. The key pics and updates usually show up on my feed, if not I’ll go to their pages if I haven’t seen much in a while.

I do get targeted ads, I ignore them. Do sometimes click on news of interest so get some of that - pretty much all of it is stuff in my wheelhouse, I don’t see much that’s unsavoury and don’t engage in discussions. So my feed is largely pics, personal updates, memes (many of which I don’t mind, as they’re from frequent posters who take the time to find good ones), and relevant news (and petitions, protests etc). If you don’t want current events related stuff, you could probably avoid that by not clicking on news. (I also get great nature pics from National Geographic, BBC Earth etc which is a pleasant reprieve from the apocalypse etc.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:35 PM on July 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have hidden a TON of my friends, either because they post stuff I don't agree with, they post too much, too much bragging, whatever there are lots of reasons. But once in a while I'll pop onto some of their pages to see what they're up to.

I think there's a way to say "I don't like this ad" which might help.

Also I try to log on twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. This is hard because I make social media posts for work too, but when I can, I try to limit my scrolling.

It's hard and I'm not sure there's one right answer. Good luck.
posted by lyssabee at 12:56 PM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Do not ever install fb or fb messenger on your phone; it is especially invasive there. This is true of phone apps in general. Try to not give an accurate date of birth; that's a piece of data that is quite abuse-able. Unlink fb from your phone if you can, I have no specific reason, just distrust it.

Use an ad-blocker, which makes fb bearable-ish. I always favorite family/friends' posts and comments, which pushes them to the top of my feed. I have 'liked' too much stuff, so I hardly see it, and then fb shows me the same posts frequently. weird. If you want to be a bit more private, use a specific browser for fb, say, Edge, that you don't use for other stuff. As far as I know, it can see what's open in other tabs, and your history, but only in the browser in which you use it.

You can 'unfollow' people and stay friends but not have their stuff in your feed. I post a fair bit (okay, a ton of memes in batches) and recommend this since not everyone loves my posts.
posted by theora55 at 1:02 PM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have spent a lot of time curating my FB feed so that my timeline is 99% stuff I care about. Here are some of my strategies:
- Set your timeline to "most recent" to avoid some of the most egregious algorithms. You will have to keep doing this because FB doesn't want you to view it that way. You can bypass them by only going to FB using a custom bookmark (add ?sk=h_chr after the trailing slash).
- Only friend people you want to follow closely, and avoid friending anyone else. You can easily put a note in your "about" field to tell everyone that you only have a very small group of people you follow. Then decline any new friend requests. If you feel the need to friend someone you don't really care about, just un-follow their updates right away and you won't see them in your timeline.
-Use the tool to set which people you see first (News Feed | Edit Preferences) and pick wisely.
- Any time you see an ad or a post you don't want to see, mark it so it's hidden forever if you can (or mark that you don't like the ad). Take the time to do this consistently. This has reduced the amount of "share to win!" posts my family does (ugh!) to a tiny trickle. Same with bad ads. It might take a while, but it helps.
- Use an ad blocker, which will pick some of them up to hide.
- I'm in a few groups, but I have to go to the group pages to see the content there - it doesn't show in my timeline.
- Try to only go on FB at set times of the day, and ignore it the rest of the time. I'm working on this, but doing it only twice a day or so is helping.

It's doable to get your friends and family feed only, you just have to work a bit at it and be judicious about how you friend people. I think using a separate browser for FB only would be good too, as suggested above.

Good luck!
posted by gemmy at 1:09 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

My first piece of advice is to be judicious about who you accept friend requests from. Assuming you use your real name and appear in search results, you'll get friend requests from people you haven't thought about in literal decades (I have a pending request from a dude I was in freshman English with in high school; I literally have not talked to him since, over a quarter of a century later), and some who appear to be random (i.e., there's no obvious connection to you; not literally random, of course). Unless this is someone you've thought about wanting to see updates about, don't accept. And if you do possibly want updates about them, look over their page first to confirm. Your distant cousin may be big into QAnon now, or your former office buddy could be pushing a MLM scam.

Then, even for the ones you do accept, unfollow a significant portion of them. The volume of posts and interaction can be overwhelming. I'm pretty close with my brother, but for most of his career he was an instructor at a vocational school, and so the majority of his friends are working-class red-state males in the mid-20s to early-30s. Now that he's no longer teaching at the school, he's decided to teach them about life, and so he posts 30+ Bernie Bro memes a day, all of which draw Trumpy comments like sharks to blood, which he then responds to by pointing out logical fallacies, discredited sources, etc. It's fun for the first day, but it gets tiring quickly. So I unfollowed him. Other times, I find myself interacting with people I'm not actually close with too much. A friend of a friend who I've hung out with a couple of times, but posts thought-provoking stuff. Unfollow. Thought-provoking posts, intelligent comments, but I'm not spending my time talking to internet strangers on Facebook. I have Metafilter for that.

You can like individual posts or photos, but don't like any pages. This is literally just a marketing opt-in. In our culture where we define our identity by the products we purchase, it's tempting (and, full disclosure, I do like a few - can't resist my LL Bean, man), but do your best. To the extent that you do, make them things that are more personal. If a buddy owns a business, it's probably ok to like that page. I like my university's alumni assocation page. Stuff like that. Every once in a while, though, I see ads that "friend A and friend B like Walmart". Don't like Walmart. Please. Remember that "liking" is just a euphemism for "publicly endorsing".

Finally, comment as little as possible. There's no point to most comments. How many times do I post pictures of my kids, only for people to comment "cute". I know they're cute; that's why I posted the picture. A rule that I've proposed (but of course don't follow) is to only comment if you're giving a compliment, asking a question, or answering a question in a helpful way.

Oh, and on preview, what others have said about Messenger. I forget because I don't use it (for the reasons mentioned), and you shouldn't either. Facebook shouldn't be your primary means of communication with anyone. If you're close enough that you're FB friends, you should have a phone number or email address for them, too.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:14 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've re-engaged with FB since the pandemic for much the same reasons you state above. I hate it and don't trust it. Knowing that, here's my set-up, in order of importance:

1) I do not have it installed on my phone, and never log in from my phone's browser
2) I use a separate browser (running a VPN and a tracking blocker) to log in, and don't use that browser for anything else
3) I installed FB purity and used the settings to very tightly limit what I actually see on the page (no games, no ads, no sidebars, no sponsored posts, no events, etc etc)
4) I do not use messenger at all

I love bbqturtle's idea of having a bookmarked folder with friend's pages who I know I want to keep up with. I think I'll add that to my routine.
posted by minervous at 1:15 PM on July 28, 2020 [10 favorites]

Nth-ing read the timelines of specific people, not the FB-curated feed for you. Also echoing the recommendation to fight for the 'most recent' items.

Maybe use a private browsing tab to try to isolate your FB presence from other online life.

If you have to be mobile or tablet, still exists and you can stop your web browser from having access to you camera or microphones. I use Messenger on m.facebook by selecting 'desktop browser mode before using Messenger and switching back to profile or timeline before disabling desktop browser mode.
posted by k3ninho at 1:18 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you have friends you want to follow who repost content from the same sources over and over, block those sources, as well. It only works on some types of pages but it really helps cut down on how much gets shared to you from places that really only exist to get people to share their memes.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:21 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this will work for you, but I unfollowed literally ALL of my friends and pages on Facebook, so that my newsfeed is completely blank. This is more reliable than a browser extension for me, because it works in any browser on any device and is also extremely time-consuming to undo.

I occasionally check the pages of friends I care about.
posted by mekily at 1:33 PM on July 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

You might consider using Instagram instead of Facebook for this. It's owned by Facebook, so it still comes with all the privacy/ethical baggage. But if you set your account to private and only follow people you actually know, you're mostly just going to be seeing people's pictures of what they're up to.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:48 PM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is browser-specific, but if you use Firefox, I use the Multi-Account Containers add-on to make sure Facebook always opens in a specific "Social Companies" Container that I've defined. Doing this keeps their cookies isolated from all of my other tabs, which helps with privacy.

(There is also a more specific version of the add-on called Facebook Container that sets up a Container for Facebook as part of installation.)
posted by catabananza at 2:00 PM on July 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

I'll second minervous' recommendation for Facebook Purity. I never see F'book ads, ever, on my laptop.
posted by BostonTerrier at 2:01 PM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

I love FB for the exact reason you want to use it: I live 2,000 miles from most of my friends and family and it helps me keep in touch with them.

My best suggestion: if you plan on posting things, set up an Exception list, which is accessible at the bottom of the window that lets you post.

I have my privacy settings as tight as they can be, so almost all of my "friends" are people I love and trust, but a few aren't quite at the same level - neighbors, for example, or work associates. I created an Exception list called "Acquaintances" and set it up so when I make a post it defaults to "Friends Except Acquaintances" and those people can't see what I posted. I only open a post to all friends or to Public if it is something I really want to share with the world.
posted by tacodave at 4:39 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

if you do sign up for facebook, use a unique email address that you only use for signing up. and avoid giving them any other personally identifiable information beyond your name i guess. that helps a little in terms of what they know about you, shields you from them harvesting other folks contacts for example.

and also avoid the temptation to put the apps on your phone. when i first signed up for instagram i didn't have a facebook account. for years i saw zero ads on instagram. then i got a facebook account but it wasn't until i put facebook's app on my phone that i began to see ads on instagram. gah.
posted by iboxifoo at 10:42 PM on July 28, 2020

There's an amazing plugin that cleans up Facebook:
It disables the algorithm, showing you things chronologically like in the olden days and allows you to have an astonishing amount of control over what you see. I've set it up so that I only see the things people I actually know have posted. Not commented or liked, only - posted. No spam, no ads, no "recommendations", no steering you towards heated debate threads.
However, this doesn't solve the privacy issue.
posted by luminary at 12:38 AM on July 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you scroll past a post from you friend fb doesn't show you more posts from that particular person. If you like the post will show you more, but if you heart, care, wow or angry fb will show you lots more from them, and if you comment it will show you even more than any other reaction. Sharing is the highest level of encouragement. So if Cousin Claire posts pictures of her fundraising fun run, share it with your own comment "My fantastic cousin Claire ran for the cure!" You'll see tons more posts from Cousin Claire after that.

Be extremely sparing in your likes with things you don't want to see. Think ten times before liking a funny or alarming forward, because that can bring an avalanche down on you. If Cousin Curtis posts a cute meme of cats and you like it you are going to see every dumb meme he posts and wonder what is going on in his life and never know. Worse, you may miss that post where he mentions "waiting for test results" because fb has decided he's your cat meme cousin and you couldn't possibly be interested in his health.

But if Aunt Mathilda posts that she had eggs for breakfast, jump right in there with a comment, "Fried or scrambled?" Innocuous conversation - or exciting meaningful conversation - brings Aunt Mathilde to the top of your feed again soon. In person when Aunt M mentioned the egg breakfast you would nod. On fb that's a like. Actively go to your family's fb pages, scroll down until they say something about their life and jump in with a comment.

Your family are probably looking for human contact when they get on fb, but their lives feel too boring to tell the world that "Now I have to wash the damn egg pan, totally should not have scrambled the eggs" and yet that is what you want them to be posting and what you want to be replying to. Aunt M will feel so much more connected to you if you reply, "Hate how my plastic scrubber gets full of scraps of eggs" that if you respond to her post about opening schools being a terrifying idea. If you tell her about your egg scrubber she'll feel safe and connected and calm and validated. If you leap in to talk about teachers being older and at high risk you will both reel away from fb with heart palpitations.

Think about all those little things you'd tell your sig other if they had just come home and post that stuff on your own fb wall. "Traffic was the worst today, but made myself a cup of warm milk when I got in and feel much better".

Use a good ad blocker for fb. It will slow fb the hell down, and fb is already horrible slow what with loading all those ads, so the best thing to do is to log and relog when it starts lagging.

Come up with a project to post on fb that will interest and amuse your friends and family. For example take pictures of your yard work and post those. Or made a weekly entry of books you read this week. I am currently posting the year to which I travel on my time cycle (stationary bike) and have reached the mid 1600's going backwards at 10K/10 years per day, with a few pictures and facts scooped from the wikipedia article on that year. It keeps my friends amused and always gathers a few likes, and maybe a couple of comments. It provides structure for my friends to see that I am still out there and staying fit and happy. The historians like to tell me more about the facts I mention. Figure out a habit like that you can document of fb to make it easy for you to think of something to say or post.

Remember chatting friendly letters with pen pals? (Maybe you don't because you haven't had a pen pal.) That's the kind of fb you want to be producing and encouraging so always respond to that kind of post and never respond to memes and media shares.

You can post on your fb friends walls too. If they don't like it they can delete your post so go ahead without worry. If Aunt Mathilde has nothing there but shared cat memes and Portland tear gas, post on her wall, "Did you and Mom go to the same elementary school?" Don't ask that over an IM, try to get it going as a conversation on her wall. If you know which school it was, scoop a picture from the internet and include it in the post. If Aunt Mathilde says yes but doesn't enlarge on her answer, reply to your own post asking if they had any of the same teachers. If you figure out the right questions you'll end up with a thread thirty entries long, and Uncle Dave will chime in that Coach Bruner was the worst. If he doesn't chime in try tagging him to find out if he went to the same school or not.

Aunt Mathilde and Uncle Dave will be deeply grateful if you do this. They are hungry for human contact and reassurance and settling sadly for cat memes. They will start to actually enjoy facebook if you do this.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:27 AM on July 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Don't forget to unfollow people you don't want at the top of your feed. You can stay friends with your boss but if you don't want to see all his darn memes before you see anything from anyone else unfollow him and get rid of the endless marketing posts.

Report all feed ads as spam. Trust me, they are spam. You'll soon notice that different companies used the exact same wording.

Remember that likes, loves, hearts, shares and comments are primarily communications to fb, and only secondarily communication to your family.

Fb will of course be 'reading' everything you post, but only for important key words. So your conversation about egg recipes with Aunt Mathilde may throw up cooking videos and cooking show ads, but rest assured that it was a bot that came across the keywords and chose the ads. If this makes you feel creeped out make a game of it and see if posting keywords like "daughter pregnant wedding autumn" won't throw up interesting ads for mother-of-the-bride outfits. Playing with fb algorithms is a hobby that can be quite amusing, unless you have enough ad blockers that you can't see the happy havoc you are creating.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:35 AM on July 29, 2020

firefox just offered this addon - Facebook Container - that would seem to enhance privacy.
Worth a try. I like answering ask.mes, so my search history is ... diverse.

Jane the Brown's comments are very helpful and compassionate. I don't care about lunch, but I do message friends to ask about their daily walk, troubled child, etc. We can use facebook to be nice people.
posted by theora55 at 3:00 PM on July 29, 2020

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