I’ve been on the fence about social networking lately. To what extent does it allow us to connect, reconnect and share, and to what extent does it give far too many third parties access to our personal lives?
And when I say “social networking,” let’s have it out in the open: that means Facebook. I mean, it’s possible to overshare on Twitter, but most tweets amount to inane babble that doesn’t reveal much about anything. It’s possible to overshare on MySpace, but that would require people to still be using MySpace when, in general, they’re not. It’s all about the Facebook these days.
Sure, Facebook can be fun. You can find people you haven’t seen in years. Share photos. Make flippant remarks about everything (this is mostly what I do there).
But I think the company is cocky sometimes. They have been guilty of assuming that, just because you want to share a photo with your friends, you automatically want to share it with literally every single person (and company) with an Internet connection. I also heard they were predicting 750 million, then 1 billion, users before too long, after they hit 500 million. Sorry. It isn’t going to happen. Facebook has been the king for a few years, but if there’s one rule on the Internet, it’s that nothing lasts forever. Unless you’re Google, apparently. I digress.
If you still want to use Facebook rather than be an early un-adopter and delete your account, I think it’s okay to do so, but you have to keep a few things in mind. You can’t just click everything that shows up on your screen.
Check your privacy settings every now and then. The safest method is to set everything on “Friends Only.” That mostly locks other people out, as far as viewing your photos and reading what you post.
Whenever Facebook introduces a new feature, new layout, or other big changes, it’s a good idea to re-check your privacy settings. In the past, “new look” usually meant “we changed all your settings back to the default, which is everybody in the universe can see everything you post.” A major update just came out, or is about to; I can’t even tell anymore. At any rate, check your settings regularly, just to make sure.
Regardless of settings, your name, location and profile photo are still visible, though. Keep that in mind. Also, if you use any “Facebook apps” (games, etc.), the publishers of those can also access your information. Which brings us to…
Here’s the short version: just don’t do it. Farmville. Mafia Wars. Happy Aquarium. Farm Wars. Happy Mafia. Whatever. Just avoid them.
Plus, these games are just a massive waste of time. You can’t tell me those hours wouldn’t be better spent away from your computer.
Other Things You Can Click On But Shouldn’t
It’s not all just apps and games on Facebook, either. There are always a million things showing up in your friends’ status feeds, often with accompanying links.
Here’s your first rule: there is no app that will tell you who has viewed your profile. It doesn’t exist. There are, however, scams that use this promise to give crooks access to your profile.
Here’s another one: any combination of words like “OMG,” “this really works,” “five things,” or scandalous videos depicting a celebrity currently huge with teenagers (Justin Beiber is the soup du jour), is not going to lead you to what it says it will lead you to. It’s called “likejacking,” and I’ve written about it before.
One more: your friend is not stranded in London, having been mugged. Someone has hacked his account and is trying to get you to wire money overseas.
Basically, if you’re using Facebook for anything beyond connecting with friends, you’re opening your information up to third parties. Some of them just want to advertise to you. Others want to steal from you.
Okay, it’s probably okay to “like” your favorite band’s official page in order to stay updated on new releases and tour dates. And it was funny when that pickle got more fans than Nickelback.
But, really, is all of this necessary? My goal would be to spend less time on Facebook, not more. I started using the Internet in 1995, and I’ll be honest: I’ve gained some weight over those 15 years. I can’t help but wonder if I’d be more fit now if I’d done more face-to-face social networking, and less BBQ-potato-chip-to-face social networking while sitting in front of a computer screen.