If you were an early Facebook user, then you probably remember those carefree days where people would have interesting conversations and share things freely.
And then your friend's list grew from 10 people to 100, and for some of us at least, it's just kept on growing, and the only things that people feel comfortable sharing today are serious sounding articles, and pictures of babies, pictures of food, and pictures of cats. Oh and a plethora of wince inducing articles with bad headlines, and some other "features" of that ilk, such as Bitstrips.
Almost all of that can be blamed on one thing - too many friends. Admit it - when your aunt in Itanagar and your buddy from first year college are both seeing the same content, the odds are that you're posting something innocuous and anodyne. And that doesn't even take into account the huge number of people who use Facebook solely to stalk "friends", creepily sifting through your life.
The good thing about Facebook is that there's a pretty robust set of tools available to keep things under control. The bad thing is that they keep changing the way things are managed and it's nearly impossible to keep on top of things. Here's how it works for now though.
The tips we are describing work almost exactly the same whether you're on a tablet or a computer, but we'd recommend sitting down with a PC for a little while for this, because it is really a lot faster that way.
The first thing you need to do is create lists for your friends. Go to your friends list, and when you see the list of names, click on the Friends button next to each name on your computer (or tap on it if you're on a mobile device, obviously) and in the menu that pops up, mark them as Acquaintances or Add to another list..., where you can create new lists.
This is the first and most essential step, but the more friends you have, the harder this becomes. Do make a "real life" list for the 10 people who are really your close friends, and whom you can have fun with on Facebook. Do not add them as Close friends because that's Facebook's secret stalker mode, where you'll see every minute activity they ever perform on the social network.
Once you've managed to mark all seven million people and relaxed a little (you'll need it) then you can move on to step two.
2. Controlling access
Go to Facebook's Privacy Settings page (that's the one with the lock icon, or just click here). Who can see my stuff? is a biggie, and we recommend setting that to a Custom list.
Each time you make a fresh post on the computer, you can change the privacy settings, but this also changes the default. Be careful and watch for the little gear icon when you post.
3. Clean up your history
In the old days, you probably put up a lot of party pics, and wrote things you're not proud of anymore, right? Well, that's going to haunt you when it's time to apply for a new job, because employers are checking your social profile these days. So click on Use Activity Log to check the things you're tagged in, and Limit Past Posts to let only people in your "real life" friends list see old posts. See? Told you that would come in handy.
4. Contacts, privacy and security
Most of us want to be easy to find on Facebook - but if you're concerned about your safety, then you might not want people to be able to search for you on the social network simply if they've gotten your number from somewhere. You can change the settings for Who can send your friend requests, or Who can look you up using the email address you provided etc. from the same Privacy Center, if you want.
5. Getting off Google
The last option in the settings is Do you want other search engines to link to your timeline?. And the only sensible setting is No. The reasons should be obvious, but to reiterate - if you've shared a post in the past that you haven't locked down because of some oversight, do you want to risk having it turn up in a Google search by a future employer?
That should get you started, but there's a lot to explore, so take the time out to go through all those settings carefully. Before we go here are the five bonus tips we promised:
1. One foolproof method is to set the default sharing behaviour to Only Me. Make the posts from whichever device you're using whenever you want to, but keep them private until you can manage the privacy levels properly. Also great if you want to prevent people from 'accidentally' seeing something you posted in a hurry.
2. Use the Custom sharing setting - make use of lists, and even if you have to essentially replicate the basic settings, use custom because the icon is very visibly different from the ones used for all Friends, and Friends except Acquaintances. It's a quick way to ensure that your default really isn't a public broadcast.
3. Many apps let you post to different privacy settings without affecting the defaults on Facebook. This is really great if most of the public content you share comes via apps - for this reporter, for example, food photos go through Instagram, where the default behaviour is set to friends; links to news stories go via Flipboard, while funny cat videos come via BaconReader (a Reddit client) - all of which are set to share to all Friends. The Facebook settings on the other hand, are custom.
4. Double check everything by going to your timeline, and clicking on the gear icon next to Activity Log. Click on View As... and make sure you try the names of the weird friend who is stalking you, your annoying relatives, or just that guy down the street whom you never invite to parties, who still "likes" all the pictures that show up!
5. Get Disconnect. This extension for Chrome/Firefox add-on is a really cool tool that keeps Facebook, Google, Twitter and other sites from being able to track you. So you can like something on Facebook, without having the product or brand follow you around the Internet. It's creepy, it's annoying, and it's often useless, so Disconnect is great to have installed.