Reluctantly I became a Facebook user in 2008 after a friend from my trail crew days told me it was a great way to keep in touch with those I had worked within the woods. I remember posting my first status (probably something dumb) and thinking how cool it was that I could let people know what I was doing at that moment. Quickly Facebook evolved into a way of digging up long-lost friends and relatives, posting about what I had for lunch, and sharing a picture of the view out my bedroom window. Then, two years or so later, it became a platform on which I regularly expressed my political views and hoped for some meaningful dialogue. Then, a couple of years after that, when I became a mom, it was a way to share photos of my son. A lot of photos.
After a few years, none of that was working. At least, not working well. I decided to take a step back and re-assess my plan for interacting with Facebook. I decided to be intentional about how I use the social media platform. I share here some things I have learned along the way. Please take what might work for you.
- Decide how you want to use Facebook: A. as a networking tool, B. as a place to promote your work/events/interests, C. as a personal platform to share photos and happenings. Choose one main one and stick with it. It’s easy to use A with a bit of B; it’s harder to combine C with the others.
- If you choose C, be aware of oversharing. Oversharing involves sharing details of a personal matter: the reason for your divorce or for your child’s recent visit to the doctor, a test you think you failed, or the fact that you are going to sleep. Ask yourself: is this information more appropriate in a private message to close friends and family? If it is, it doesn’t belong as a status.
- If you choose C, also be aware of cryptic messages. These are posts that seem vague, intentionally or not. “Please pray for me” is one I often see. “Send good vibes to a friend who’s having a hard time” is another. If you’re not prepared to say why you need prayers (which might easily tumble into oversharing), best keep this to yourself. Likewise, unless you have explicit permission to share your friend’s story, don’t. Many times cryptic posts have the best intentions; after all, they are used to drum up support, to get the good vibes rolling. I get it. But most often they come across as attention-seeking, and they can make people uncomfortable.
- Establish your own rules about friending someone. I used to have a strict rule that I only accepted friend requests of people I knew in real life. Then, as I started using Facebook more as a networking tool, I began accepting requests from fellow writers and artists whom I hadn’t necessarily met. However, I always vet them by seeing who our mutual friends are. If we don’t have any, most of the time I don’t friend them. I highly recommend this rule for your safety (e.g. don’t accept requests from complete strangers).
- Be prudent about posting selfies. I see a lot of them on Facebook. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I don’t understand the craze. If the selfie serves a purpose, such as showing you accomplishing something you’re proud of, that’s ok. But a selfie just for the sake of one can be easily misinterpreted and just plain annoying. If you can say it without a selfie, do it.
- Be extra prudent about posting photos of your young children. I wrote an article on this subject in Scary Mommy; you can read it here. Many times we are unintentionally chronicling little lives and sharing information that’s not really ours to share, nor do we have permission to do so. Because when we share a photo of them in their underwear, we share it with all our Facebook friends and contacts, and then some. We think we have control over who sees it, but we really don’t. A relative could show it to her friend. A friend could download it to his computer. Another friend could leave her phone open and unattended. There is no mal intent, but nevertheless, that photo of your child in a vulnerable moment is no longer really yours. Our children deserve better. By a similar token, note that profile pictures and cover photos are public, regardless of your privacy settings.
- Tread lightly on politics. This one has been a journey for me. I used to post about politics daily. Usually, it was something that happened on the national scene, along with my opinion of it. I got into arguments with people (which always had an extra layer of contention when both parties were behind a screen). Some discourse was helpful, most was counter-productive. My views on certain people began to change. I almost lost friendship with a relative. Those things weren’t worth it to me. So I posted less. Then in 2018, I became President of a local nonprofit, and I didn’t want to do the organization a disservice by posting my political views. Now I very rarely post about national politics. If anything, I post about state and local politics, and leave the shouting to others. This doesn’t make you less opinionated or less strong; it conveys that you understand the nuances of communicating about sensitive and complex topics in person or in more private forum.
- Designate a time for Facebook, and stick to it. Decide whatever amount of time you think is reasonable and realistic to be on Facebook (an hour per day, for example). Once you have reached your limit, close the window. You can choose to break your time up (four 25-minute chunks, for example). This is the toughest one for me. What has helped is setting a timer on my phone. And when that timer goes off, I close Facebook, regardless of what I’m doing.
- Keep Facebook in its place. This is related to #8. Resist the temptation to hop on during a spare moment and start scrolling your newsfeed. Research has shown that scrolling can have an overall negative effect on your psyche; it leads to feelings of social comparison, fear of missing out, and inadequacy. Remember, people generally put their best faces forward on social media, and what you are seeing on the screen is not the whole story.
- It’s ok to take breaks, unfollow, and clean house. I do wonder if all this connectedness causes stress in our lives. Try taking a break from all social media one day a week. See how it feels. Try it over the course of a month. Do you find yourself more productive and present? It’s also ok to unfollow someone. It’s not the same thing as unfriending, and that person won’t know you unfollowed them. If their posts are causing you stress, for whatever reason, unfollowing them is a good way to ensure their posts don’t end up in your newsfeed. I had to recently unfollow a friend who constantly posts about politics. He and I generally share the same ideology, but it was causing me anxiety because his posts were usually negative. It’s more than ok to own your newsfeed. Also, it’s ok to clean house with your friend list once in a while. If I no longer feel connected to someone, or perhaps the reason I friended them in the first place no longer exists, it’s acceptable to delete them.
Most of all, do not let Facebook bend reality. Do not let it replace real-life connections and conversations. Have fun, but know what you wish to accomplish with it, when to use it and when to shut it off, and when it may be causing you stress. Practice good self-care in this age of social media.