The rumors of Facebook’s death may be greatly exaggerated. On the other hand, maybe not. Facebook is certainly not at its best right now. We are all worn out from nonstop politics and outrage, fake news and strong opinions. My friends are posting less. I have pulled back lately, and in the past have quit it completely for long stretches because it stopped being fun. When tensions are running high in our culture, Facebook seems to absorb and amplify them.
Bethany Mandel, writing in The Federalist, declared 2017 to be the year Facebook died, killed by the recent election. She concludes, “The year 2016 saw many deaths, but one of the most notable may in the end be Facebook, destroyed by the obnoxious tendencies of those who built it: Its own users.”
Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, Pew Research Center reports that America’s love affair with Facebook is still going strong. Their latest report published on November 11, 2016 says 79 percent of online Americans have a Facebook account—a 7 percent increase from a year earlier. The percentage of online adults over age 65 with a Facebook account jumped from 48 percent to 62 percent over the same year. Seniors are embracing social media as a way to keep in touch with far-off children and grandchildren and ease the isolation that often comes after retirement.
Having a social media account is not the same as actively using that account, and if millennial disillusionment with Facebook continues, we could see that generation migrate to the next new thing and abandon Facebook altogether. For us slightly older folks—I’m a Gen Xer—Facebook is how we keep up with family members, high school friends, neighbors, and our Baby Boomer parents. Our crew is not going to move to new technology so easily, so we are going to have to figure out how to dial down the drama in our News Feeds so Facebook can be a happy place for all of us.
Unlike Twitter, where users follow and unfollow each other as they please, Facebook is more personal. We have to reach out, make a friend request, and mutually agree to connect on Facebook. Most people I know fill their friends list with people they know personally or friends of friends. We feel more of a connection with these people than we do on other social media platforms because most of them we know in real life.
Tackling a high-drama News Feed can be a challenge. Most of us like to avoid conflict and hurt feelings when we can, and nothing can stir up trouble faster than a social media dust-up. Here are some ways you can manage your Facebook Timeline to curate your News Feed content and limit unpleasantness.
1. Use the Unfollow Feature Liberally
This has been a successful strategy when I needed to step away from a friend’s strong opinions. People are passionate about lots of different things, not just politics, and sometimes we need to take a break.
Unfollowing someone is not the same as unfriending him. Unfriending removes the person from your Facebook friend list forever or until one of you sends a new friend request to the other. When you unfollow people, you are still friends, but their posts don’t show up in your News Feed. Facebook does not alert them that you are no longer following their posts, and you can follow them back whenever you choose. I unfollow and re-follow people all the time.
I depend on Facebook to stay up-to-date with friends and family I don’t see every day, so I try to check in at least once a day. To save time and make sure I don’t miss important posts, I use Facebook’s News Feed customization tool to prioritize which I see first. I keep family and some of my close friends on this list. New posts from these people are always at the top of my News Feed when I open Facebook, so I’m less likely to miss them.
3. Use Facebook Lists to Control Who Sees Your Posts
Most of us have a diverse set of Facebook friends—family, neighbors, work friends, college buddies, our kids’ teachers. At times, you may want different audiences to see different posts. Facebook’s list feature lets you sort friends into groups such as Close Friends or Acquaintances, or you can put them on a custom list.
You can also prevent some of your friends from seeing any of your posts by placing them on the Restricted list. Limiting who sees your posts will also limit who comments on them, making this a good option if you need to tame your comments section. You choose which lists will see each post before you publish it. Facebook does not notify your friends when you put them on a list.
4. Have Facebook Notify You When Certain Friends Post
Whether you are monitoring your kid’s every move on social media or have a friend or family member going through a personal crisis, sometimes you want up-to-the-minute reports on friends’ status updates. You can set Facebook to notify you when friends in specific Facebook lists post, or you can set it to notify you when an individual friend posts an update. You can still keep up with close friends without having to sort through your News Feed.
5. Organize Your News Feed by Most Recent
Using its proprietary algorithm, Facebook fills your News Feed with the stories from your friends it thinks you will be most interested in seeing. Posts that get a flurry of activity of likes or comments get higher priority than other posts. That is why during the election your uncle’s #MAGA rant about Crooked Hillary kept showing up over and over in your News Feed as his friends commented on it. Facebook defaults to this “Top Stories” option, but you can set your News Feed to “Most Recent” to have it display posts in reverse chronological order.
6. Hide Ads that Annoy You
Love them or hate them, Internet ads are a fact of life, and Facebook is no exception. If you find certain ads annoying, you can make them go away by hiding them. Once hidden, Facebook will not show that ad to you again.
7. Remove the Facebook App from Your Phone
Sometimes the best way to limit the stress of Facebook drama is to limit access to it. Many of us use Facebook as a time filler while we are waiting for something else, and it is easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole into whatever controversy is brewing that day. Take away the temptation, and open that Kindle app instead.
8. Set the Tone for Your Timeline
Your Facebook Timeline is an online extension of your personal space. Insist that visitors treat each other with the same respect they would if they were visitors in your home. I make an effort to be tactful in framing the arguments around the things I post, and I have found that my friends mirror that tone back to me in their comments most of the time. Those who don’t follow my lead in being respectful get their comments deleted. This rarely happens, because I have nice friends.
9. Remember: the First Amendment Does Not Apply
Your Facebook Timeline belongs to you. If someone leaves a comment that is unkind or posts something you don’t like to your Timeline, you can delete it. If she complains about it, tell the person to behave better next time or go post her mess on her own Timeline.
10. Give Each Other Some Grace
Much of human communication is nonverbal. Tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language do matter, and all of those are missing completely on social media. It is easy to misspeak and hurt feelings without knowing it. I try to see past clumsy words to the intentions behind them and give my friends the benefit of the doubt. They are my friends, after all.
Finally, we are not required to react to everything we see on social media, and scrolling on past the annoying stuff will do our relationships and psyches a whole lot of good.
I enjoy Facebook most days. I have celebrated life events, mourned with friends and family, and re-connected with many friends from my childhood. It is a great way to keep in touch and share photos and videos of the family.
However, Mandel is right. When Facebook does die, it will be at the hands of its own users. In the meantime, we can use the tools given to us plus a few ground rules we set to make our personal corner of Facebook a (mostly) happy place as long as possible.