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You Can Use Facebook without Turning It into a Soap Opera

by Keith Gatling | 13 months ago

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My wife and I were talking the other day about a friend who, even before this time of social distancing, was missing out on a lot of family news because they're not on Facebook.

Now there are a lot of reasons for people not being on Facebook, and I'm going to talk about two of them. One is just plain old privacy. Some people are very private, and don't want to share their business with everyone else. OK. I get that. The other is not wanting to be drawn into some of the drama that you can find there. And let's face it, Facebook can be a very contentious place, even among family members...especially among family members. But I've got a few solutions that might solve these problems and let people like our friend keep in touch with their far-flung family members

#1. Don't Use Your Right Name...No, No, No!

Yes, I know that this goes against Facebook's rules about actually using your real name, but you don't have to use your full real name. When I was teaching, I always advised my younger students to not use their full names on Facebook so that stalkers couldn't easily figure out who they were and where they were. As a result, Laura Giordano might be on Facebook as Laura Gee, or Devin Harrison might Devin Wilson (after his middle name). This doesn't prevent someone from finding you if they really want to, but it sure slows them down!

Warning...if you've got lots of extended family that you don't really want to connect with on Facebook, you might not want to make it something too obvious for them to figure out when they look at the friends lists of members of your immediate family. But we'll get to that shortly.

#2. Don't Use an Actual Photo of Yourself as Your Profile Photo

Now, as I say this, I realize that this is a real pain for people who may legitimately want to find you. I went to school with a girl named Susan Smith...really. Do you know how many of them there are out there? And how many of them have their cat, or a bunch of flowers, or a landscape as their profile photo? But if you're trying to hide from everyone but your immediate family, you don't really care about old classmates like me from grade school. You go on and use that photo of your cat, a picture of Betty Boop, a photo of James Earl Jones, or even create an avatar of your own, using one of the many sites or apps that will let you do that.

#3. Set Your Privacy Settings to "Friends Only"

Not even Friends of Friends. Just Friends. This way Cousin Sue out in Oklahoma can't see anything you've posted...as if you're gonna post at all. If you just want to know what's going on with everyone else, you're probably not, which brings us to the next item.

#4. Be a Lurker

That means to just hang out, watch, read, but say very little. Don't comment, and don't "like" anything. That way, people other than the people you've decided to connect with don't even know you're there to try to friend.

And...being a lurker means that you don't easily get drawn into the drama you're trying to avoid. Because if you don't say anything, no one can respond back to you. Also, if you're only a lurker, it means that you'll never post any embarrassing photos of yourself that you may regret later.
#5. Be Polite About Not Accepting Others as Friends

I might even say here to be proactive about it. I'm looking for a way to put in your profile that you're only accepting friend requests from members of your immediate family, but I haven't found a simple way to do that. The best way I've found may be to put "Only Friends with Immediate Family" as your only workplace in your About info. That way, when people search for you, and possibly find you, they'll see right off the bat that you're not likely to accept them as friends.

After You've Done All This, Now What?

Well, first of all, you need to contact all your immediate family members to friend them. That should be fairly simple, since they likely haven't gone into Witness Protection Program mode.They should be fairly easy to find by their names and profile photos. Then once you've friended them, it would be a good idea to let them know that you're only friending members of the immediate family, not the cousins out in Minnesota, and definitely not the rest of the greater world.

You also need to be aware that, in spite of the fact that, as a lurker, you're not posting anything about yourself or any photos of yourself, your immediate family members might. You know, those photos of thewhole family at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Shoshana's graduation, or Elisa's wedding. These were going to be posted and shared with the rest of the family whether you were on Facebook or not. You can't really ask them to take them down (well...yes you can, but let's not go there), and you can't ask them to digitally remove you (most people don't have the skill to do it well). However...if you've been tagged in them, you can ask the original poster to untag you, or you could even untag yourself. That way, you're still in the picture, but you're not officially identified. Besides, the pictures that you're tagged in will end up as a photo album in your own Facebook account of photos that you might actually want to keep for yourself. If you're not tagged in them, then finding those pictures later on will be very difficult.

This photo privacy thing is a fine line to walk, and insisting on too much of it could end up with your and your descendants losing a lot years down the road, when there's no record of you to look back on. I feel this way simply about the lack of photos of me before about age 20, because we didn't take pictures all that often...or what pictures wedid take were lost in several moves and a messy divorce. The photos shared of you by others on Facebook may well end up being the only photos anyone has of you years from now. So be careful about your insistence on privacy.
Do I Have Anything Else to Say on the Subject

Not at the moment. There's so much detail I could go into...perhaps too much detail. But let's just let this be a little piece to let you know that you can go on Facebook and still maintain some sense of privacy, and not get drawn into all the drama.