If you’re like me, you share a lot about yourself with a great many Facebook “friends.” But are they really friends? Can you trust them? And can you trust Facebook?
The answer to those questions depends on how you set up your Facebook-privacy settings. And an important component of those settings is defining what kind of friend you want your various friends to be.
And, of course, even the best privacy settings are pointless if someone hacks into your Facebook account. So you also need to know how to lock down access to your account.
I’ll assume you’re accessing Facebook and changing settings in a standard browser.
Take a minute to better secure your account
When jumping into Facebook privacy/security settings, you might be tempted to click the little lock icon on the right side of Facebook’s title bar and select the Privacy Checkup option. That can help, but I think the following instructions will be more helpful.
Start by clicking the triangle just to the right of the lock icon and selecting Settings (see Figure 1). You’ll find the Password option on the default General section (see the page’s left nav column). If you don’t already have a long and strong password, or it’s been years since you changed it, click Password and enter a new one that will be difficult to crack.
Now click the Security heading in the nav column for the following options:
Login Approvals: Also called two-step verification, this setting makes it much more difficult to be hacked. To get into your account, the crook will need your password, your cellphone PIN, and physical possession of your phone.
Check the box next to “Require a security code to access my account from unknown browsers” and then follow the setup wizard.
Once that’s done, every time you — or someone pretending to be you — sign in to your account on a new device or browser, Facebook will text you a code number; you’ll then need that code to complete the sign in process.
Login Alerts: When this option is enabled, you’ll get an email notification whenever your account is first accessed by a browser or app. If you get this email, and you haven’t signed in to Facebook with a new browser or app, you’ll know immediately that you’ve probably been hacked.
Your Browsers and Apps: This shows you a list of browsers and devices you (or someone pretending to be you) have used to access Facebook. It can be a shockingly long list. Best to trim those you’re no longer using. (You might need to enable Login Approvals to populate the list.)
Take a little time to review the other Security Settings options; you might, for example, want to enable a Legacy Contact.
Control who gets to see what information
With your Facebook account reasonably protected from hacking, you’ll now want to keep from sharing too much information — with the wrong people.
Before posting anything on Facebook, take a look at the pull-down menu just to the left of the Post button. It’ll probably say Public, Friends, and either More Options or Custom, as shown in Figure 3. (The official name is the “Who should see this” menu.)
Consider who you want to read this item. If you select Public, your friends can share it with anyone — both on and off Facebook.
If you select Friends, your friends can only share it with other friends of yours. But there’s an exception: When you post a link to something readily available on the Internet — an article, for instance — your friends can share those with anyone. That makes sense; you don’t own that information.
So if you want your words of wisdom to go viral, select Public. If you want to keep it just among friends, select Friends.
Under the Custom setting, you can select other Facebook groups and categories you belong to — for example, Family or Close Friends.
Not every ‘friend’ is a close, personal friend
Contrary to what some believe, Facebook isn’t a popularity contest. There’s really no reward for the most “friends.” Just because the bully who beat you up in Junior High, or some total stranger, sends you a Friend Request doesn’t mean you have to accept it.
If you want to share a piece of yourself with everyone on Facebook, create a public page. To create a public page, click that little rectangle in the upper-right corner of the Facebook page and select Create Page. Follow the instructions.
What about the people you’ve already friended — and now wish you hadn’t? Simply unfriend them. If you see them on your timeline, hover the cursor over their name and, when the pop-up window appears, go to the Friends menu and select Unfriend (Figure 4). If they’re not visible on the timeline, search for them on Facebook, go to their page, and pull down the Friends menu and select Unfriend there.
If someone you’ve unfriended starts harassing you on Facebook, click the little lock icon and select “How do I stop someone from bothering me” (Figure 5). Follow the prompts.
Setting up tiers of Facebook friends
Unless you believe in the “My life is an open book” philosophy, you’ll want to define your types of friends. Facebook offers categories, and you should really use them.
For instance, you can demote a Friend to an Acquaintance. Use the same steps given above for unfriending someone, but select Acquaintance rather than Unfriend (see Figure 6). That way, you’ll see fewer of their posts popping up on your timeline — although by default you’ll still see some. The Following button in the popup box lets you “unfollow” them.
You can hide certain posts from categories of friends. For example, open the aforementioned “Who should see this?” menu (again, next to the Post button) and look for “Friends except Acquaintances,” as shown in Figure 7. (It might be under More Options.)
It’s important to remember that when you turn a friend into an acquaintance, they’re still a Facebook Friend. They’ll get everything you post to Friends; they just won’t get the posts you limited with “Friends except Acquaintances.” And your full friends won’t be able to share those posts with your acquaintances, either.
Facebook can help you choose which friends should be acquaintances. Go to the Home page and scroll down the left column, looking for the “Friends” group. You’ll see a list of Friends categories, many of which you probably had no idea you had. Click on Acquaintances.
You’ll get a news feed of posts only from your Acquaintances. On the right, you’ll find a list of Friends that Facebook thinks you might want to demote (Figure 8). If you agree on any of them, click the Add button next to the name. You can hover over a name for more details. You should also click “See All Suggestions” at the bottom of the list.
Conversely, you can also promote Friends to Close Friends. Not surprisingly, there’s no “Friends except Close Friends” on “Who should see this.” But there is an option to post only to Close Friends.
You can promote a friend to a good friend the same way you demote friends to an acquaintance. It’s only a matter of picking the appropriate menu option.
Clicking on the Friends category opens a page where you can create addition lists of friends (Figure 9).
By mastering all of these lists, you can control who sees what.
And then there’s Facebook itself
With Facebook, you have to remember whom you’re dealing with. It’s a highly successful, for-profit company that doesn’t charge you a fee.
That doesn’t mean it’s really free. It can collect an astounding amount of your personal information, and it earns its billions of dollars mostly through a special form of advertising. Over time, the service creates a detailed profile of you from what you post and what you read. That data is used for targeting tailored advertising to you.
In short, whenever you use Facebook, you’re giving away a piece of your privacy. Keep that in mind whenever you use it.
Spector, Lincoln. “How to Keep Your Facebook Privacy Private” Windows Secrets. March 2016