Practical hacks for protecting your privacy and your sanity.

Social media is busily disrupting our communications habits and relationships. Thanks to Facebook we can now stay in constant contact with distant family members, school chums and hundreds of (so-called) friends.

But it can also be hugely distracting, wasting your time and lowering your productivity and mood. There’s also a risk of negatively impacting happiness and anxiety levels through endless comparison with others, and exposure to criticism and bullying.

On top of this, is the discovery of Cambridge Analytica harvesting data to help Trump’s election campaign (amongst other things we never consented to).  Not surprisingly, a lot of people are pretty upset leading to the #DeleteFacebook movement and a debate about how Facebook should be regulated and democratized. (Instructions on how to protect your privacy are below)

Opting out sends a clear message and could bring all sorts of immediate benefits. Yet before we throw the social media baby out of the bathwater, we might want to to first press pause and ask some questions. For example, how might we be part of a movement to create a more meaningful and accountable social media space? Is it possible to satisfactorily reform how it operates publicly and privately?

Given that Facebook and social media is not going away anytime soon, a clear first step is to educate ourselves and our networks, especially children, so that we are controlling social media use not the other way around.

So if you’re pondering deleting or curtailing Facebook, here are some tips to take back some control and help you weigh up the advantages and disadvantages. If you decide to stay you’ll at least be able to better manage your interactions, hopefully making for a better space for all.

Making Facebook a (more) positive addition to your life

The key to a happy Facebook interactions is threefold:

  1. Allocate your use to specific tasks and timeframes.
  2. Alter your habits and edit your Facebook Settings to support your intended usage.
  3. Engage your values whenever you post or interact (this can help make it a more positive experience for all).

The following are some practical suggestions on how to interact more positively online. In addition to trying these out and coming up with some of your own, I strongly advocate regular technology breaks on a daily, weekly and annual basis.

Use Facebook for periodic updates on what’s happened in your networks, as well as news items related to your areas of interest (just as you might use Twitter for quick updates on what’s happening now, LinkedIn for career etc). Avoid going to these sites outside the specific time you allocate (e.g. Facebook Friday or Social Media Sunday) unless you have a specific task, interest or query.

Monitor frequency of your posts and avoid posting too often. When you post time is often spent checking for responses and likes, which can lull you into a hypnotic state of scrolling random updates and news articles. Decide on a weekday or time you will post and limit yourself to that.

Access is important –  consider deleting Facebook from your phone. Limiting your use to a desktop every few days or once a week will help you avoid procrastination and all those endless hours vacantly skimming cat videos and what your friends had for dinner.

Banish technology from your bedroom and from one hour before bed. We know phones disrupt sleep – as well as sex and intimacy. See the bedroom as your sacred space and save Facebook along with current affairs, for the breakfast table. Buy an alarm clock or music system so you can wake up to your favourite music and your partner – not the phone.

Manage exposure. Often we disclose more about ourselves online than we do in person which can cause anxiety and potentially bring about offence – either your own or other people’s. Limit what you share and with whom. You can still be real, just don’t overdo it..

Exercise caution on who you friend (perhaps not the boss!) and the times you post. Select your friends wisely and choose when you post carefully. Avoid going online when emotions are heightened or following consumption of alcohol. To prevent impulse posts remove the app from your phone. You could also unfollow, block or delete problem contacts.

Practice kindness and civility—post only what you would be comfortable saying to someone in person. Sensitive individuals (let’s face it we’re all sensitive sometimes) and adolescents are particularly susceptible to cyberbullying so try to defuse negative posts where you encounter them and be the voice of balance and maturity where ‘discussions’ are getting out of hand.

Be the bigger person. Don’t be afraid to delete posts that have regrettable consequences and message those who may have been offended with an apology. We all get it wrong sometimes, and when it’s up in writing for all to see we have an even greater responsibility to choose kindness over being ‘right’.

Pay attention. No one likes to be ignored, that includes the sales person at your local supermarket. So whether you’re with loved ones, colleagues or strangers, aim to limit or eliminate social media and phone use. Eye contact and a smile can keep communities connected, your undivided attention makes significant others feel acknowledged and appreciated.

Defending your data and protecting your privacy

Now for the practical stuff. To take charge of your personal Facebook information and what is seen by others, including apps and other websites, get to know your Account Settings.

To access use the dropdown arrow, located top right in the blue band at the top of your Facebook page. The following steps are recommended as a minimum precaution.

Remove apps and services you don’t trust or use anymore. Click on Apps to review the list of apps and services that are connected to your Facebook account—where in doubt delete, delete, delete. This is the most important step in managing access to your personal data.

Stop Facebook sharing information with apps and websites your friends use. You may be very (un)surprised to know your personal details may be accessed through the websites and apps your friend accesses with their Facebook account. To ensure this doesn’t happen Select Apps > Apps Others Use > Edit. Uncheck any you don’t want Facebook to use and save changes.

Don’t log into third-party apps and websites using your Facebook account. If an independent account and log-in isn’t available and you really want to use the app, double check the Facebook data it wants access to and don’t log-in unless you’re comfortable.

Limit Facebook and Messenger access to information on your phone. If you don’t want Facebook reading your messages (and who does!), you can control access to your SMS, Telephone, Contacts, and Microphone under Permissions.

If you already have Messenger you will need to reinstall the app ensuring you disable permission to Text Anyone In Your Phone and Send And Receive SMS in Messenger options. You should also avoid giving your phone number. The trade-off is that you’ll need to give individual permissions whenever you upload media on Facebook, to allow access to your camera and microphone—a small hassle for increased control.

Managing who can see your stuff. Go to Settings > Privacy and set your defaults to public, friends or specific groups.  Remember that Facebook defaults to your last setting so ensure you select the drop down arrow on individual posts to change between your allowed audiences. To control how specific people access your posts or information head to Blocking.

Limit who can see your email address or phone number (or better still remove these) and posts. You can unfollow and block individuals without them being notified. Under Timeline and Tagging you can ask to review posts you’re tagged in before the post appears on your timeline.  To test changes go to Review what other people see on your timeline.

Review your Facebook data. You can get a print out of all your Facebook data including posts, photos, chats and personal data via Settings > General > Download a copy of all your data.

To manage how you are targeted by ads and secure your account from hackers, and a range of other controls including many of the above, Tech Viral’s excellent Facebook hacks offer a wealth of information.

If all that sounds too hard, Facebook now has a “kill switch”: Account settings>Deactivate your account.

Get real with Facebook  

With a little consideration, it is possible to get real with Facebook and get the benefits while better managing your time and your data.

And by taking a few simple steps such as taking away the opportunity to utilise the app on your phone, you can allocate time for better distractions, such as reading a book. You can also allow time for doing nothing or more aptly for being in the moment.

By directing your attention into the here and now, you give your mind a rest from constant stimulation and distraction, ground yourself back in the body and reconnect to your surroundings. You also allow time and space for creative ideas to show up.

Finally, it sounds boring, but the best way to take advantage of the benefits of sites like Facebook while minimizing the downsides, is to remember to maintain your integrity and detachment and to moderate your use.

And think twice before you ‘friend’ your employer.