It is the social network of our times. Two thirds of Irish adults now use it with almost half logging in every day. But are you getting the most out of Facebook? Do you ever wish you could filter out annoying photos or banish ads? Would you like to post pictures and updates without the whole world seeing? And how can you make absolutely sure your account won’t be hacked? Adrian Weckler offers up an essential guide to getting more out of Facebook for the casual Irish usersends
Basic privacy tips
1. ‘I like putting pictures of my child up but only want my family to see them.’
One of the things that puts people off using social media is the idea that everything is public and that a photo can be seen by anyone. But it’s fairly straightforward to limit certain photos or posts to certain Facebook friends. One way is to organise them into ‘close friends’, ‘acquaintances’ or ‘restricted’ people. You’ll find this setting option halfway down the left side of the screen on a PC and under ‘feeds’ (in ‘more’) at the bottom right corner of a phone. Basically, ‘close friends’ have way more viewing rights to your posts and content than ‘acquaintances’ or ‘restricted’. So when you post a photo, you can choose only for ‘close friends’ to see it. You can also activate a ‘family’ folder and control the privacy on posts to it.
2. Is it possible to have separate groups of friends or contacts that see different things that I post?
Yes. Facebook lets you set up ‘groups’ that are exactly what they sound like: different groupings of friends that see different things you choose to post. On the left side of the Facebook screen, click ‘create group’. (On a phone, tap ‘more’ in the bottom corner and then ‘create group’.)
It lets you create a completely public group where anything can be seen or a restricted group where posts can’t be seen by non-group members. (A third option lets you create a ‘secret’ group where even its existence can’t be discovered by non-members.) You simply invite people to join the group. This is very handy for keeping work and private lives separate. It’s also handy for when you’re planning an event that only involves certain friends and you don’t want to cause offence to other friends who might see it.
3. ‘Someone tagged me in an unflattering photo and now all my friends are seeing it. It’s even in my profile photos now. Can I get rid of it?’
You can get rid of the tag, but you can’t have the actual photo removed. The way to knock out the tag is to do the following. On a PC, select the picture and under the ‘options’ menu on the picture, choose ‘remove tag’. (On a phone, do the same thing except tapping the top right of the screen instead.) If this is a regular thing that happens, you can tweak your account so that anything you’re tagged in has to be ticked okay by you first before the tag is published.
Go into the ‘timeline and tagging’ menu in ‘settings’ and flick the switch on the option that says ‘review posts friends tag you in before they appear’. Alas, no matter how unflattering or objectionable you feel photos of you are, you can’t ‘remove’ someone else’s Facebook photo via any controls or buttons. The best you can do is ‘report’ the photo (under ‘options’, tap ‘report photo’) and then select ‘I’m in this photo and I don’t like it’. But unless the photo breaks any strict Facebook abuse rules (and most of them don’t) all that will happen is that Facebook suggests you send a message to the person asking them to remove the photo.
4. How do I stop seeing endless baby or animal pictures?
People like to post photos of kids, pets and other things on Facebook. You can control this to a limited degree. Facebook lets you influence the kind of posts you see from friends. But instead of choices like ‘no baby photos please’ in settings, Facebook guesses what you might like to see by your own activities, such as the ‘likes’ you bestow on certain images. In other words, if you ‘like’ several baby photos, you’ll be guaranteed to see more whenever they’re posted. Even if you refrain from ‘liking’ them, you still might see them. But you can cut down on their frequency in your timeline, without blocking or unfriending the poster, by clicking or tapping the option on each post that says ‘I don’t want to see this’ or ‘I don’t like this photo’. (This option appears when you tap or click the top right hand corner arrow in a post.) Facebook then takes its best guess at what it is about the photo or post that you don’t like. The reverse result is true, too: you can increase the frequency with which you see certain types of photos or posts by ‘liking’ certain Facebook pages or posts with activities you’re interested in.
5. How to stay ‘friends’ with somebody while cutting out absolutely everything they post
Facebook has a subtle lever you can pull that allows you to stay ‘friends’ with someone without having to see all of their banal outpourings. When you ‘friend’ someone, you automatically ‘follow’ (see) their posts. But you can ‘unfollow’ their posts easily, while still remaining ‘friends’. On a PC, just place your mouse on their name or image and you’ll see a small box that says ‘following’. Click that to ‘unfollow’. On a phone or tablet, do the same thing by tapping on their photo.
Once done, you can still send them direct messages or add them to groups as a ‘friend’, but you no longer see their boring updates. And if you change your mind, you can simply repeat the process above to ‘follow’ them again. Mercifully, they won’t know either way so there will be no awkwardness.
Ads and other irritants
6. How to control the ads you see
Ever wonder why you constantly see ads for over-40s singles? Or other stuff you reckon is unconnected with your life? Facebook reckons it’s applying ads to things you do or things you like. But it also lets you minimise individual ads. For example, you can click or tap the top corner of an ad and you’ll see a menu with: ‘I don’t want to see this’ and ‘see fewer posts like this’. It even gives you the option of ‘hide all ads from [advertiser]’. There are other ways to alter the ads you see, but most depend on rearranging your likes, preferences or options in settings. There is no way to eliminate ads altogether from Facebook.
7. How to stop relentless invitations to online poker or silly games without offending the person sending them
If there’s someone who keeps sending you invitations to join apps or games, go into ‘blocking’ (in ‘settings’). Choose ‘block app invites’ and type in the sender’s name. You’ll still be friends and see their updates, but you won’t get any more stupid game invitations from them. Alternatively, if it’s a particular app or game invitation that many people are sending you, look for the ‘block apps’ field (in the same ‘blocking’ section of ‘settings’) and start typing in the name of the app you never want to hear about again.
8. How to reduce non-stop notifications for trivial things
Your account may be set by default to ‘ping’ you for all sorts of things, ranging from others commenting on a post you commented on to your friends’ “life events”. If it all seems a bit disruptive, go into ‘notifications’ (in ‘settings’) and turn some of them off. If you’re mainly using a smartphone for Facebook and want to play it by ear (to be notified for follow-up comments on some posts but not on others), the trick is to tap the right-hand corner when you’re in someone else’s post and choose ‘turn off notifications’.
9. How to check that no-one else has accessed your account up to now
Are you worried that someone else might be logged in to your account or may have accessed it without your permission? Maybe an ex-partner or a work colleague? You can check in the settings. There’s a section in ‘security settings’ called ‘where you’re logged in’. If you click it, it opens up into a list showing all of the phones, tablets or computers that are logged in to your Facebook account or have done in the recent past. Hopefully, you’ll recognise only your own devices and locations. If you want to make extra sure, you can also switch on a feature (under ‘login alerts’) that emails or texts you whenever your account is used from a new device or web browser.
10. One simple way to stop your Facebook account getting hacked
Aside from having a sensible password that’s hard to guess, Facebook also offers an extra security feature that stops your account being accessed from computers, phones or tablets that you haven’t used. Under ‘security settings’, there’s an option called ‘login approval’ that’s well worth ticking. If you activate it, your phone will get sent a security code any time your Facebook account is accessed from a computer or phone web browser that you haven’t used before. Presuming it’s you, just enter the security code Facebook sends you and you’ll have no problem. But it will make it much harder for a hacker or mischievous person to get in.
11. Can I completely delete my account? And what happens to all my info and photos if I do? Will my messages disappear if I deactivate my account?
Facebook has two steps to cancelling your account. One is ‘deactivation’ (in ‘security settings’), which essentially just puts your account on hold. All your information remains stored by Facebook, but it’s not visible to others or to you unless you log back in and reactivate it. This option might be useful if you’re fed up with being visible online. An irreversible option is to ‘permanently delete’ your account. This is a bit trickier to find (use this as a shortcut: facebook.com/help/delete_account). But once you do it, there’s no resurrection — your photos, updates and other information will be scrubbed for good. The only traces that will remain will be stranded items such as some messages you sent that remain in others’ inboxes.
Finding and arranging friends
12. How to use Facebook to find far flung people or new acquaintances
Looking for someone but don’t know where they are? Perhaps you may have met someone at a party or at a work event but can’t remember their name now? Facebook has a way to let you search for people using tangential details. The search box at the top of the page (or phone screen) is designed to respond to certain types of search queries. For example, type in: ‘friends of my friends who live in Cork’ or ‘friends of my friends who work in Dun Laoghaire’. You’ll get a list of people meeting that criteria. You can also cast the net wider, with a query such as: ‘men from Dublin, Ireland who work at [insert company or institution]’.
13. How will I know if friends unfriend me?
The most direct way is to search for their name in Facebook’s search function. When you find them, their status will tell you if you’re friends or not. (If you can’t see their page, you may be blocked.) For the paranoid, there are some free software programs that actually let you know when you’re unfriended on Facebook. The website deleted.io will tell you of any unfriendings after you register, while FB Purity will actually alert you to it (although this is a pretty advanced Facebook page optimiser and not great for novices). Unfortunately, there is no way to tell whether a Facebook friend has ‘unfollowed’ your posts. Then again, if there was, it could cause widespread social offence.