Fix Twitter and Facebook
How to mend your relationship with social media.
It may have started with the aggressively stupid “25 random things about me” posts on Facebook, or maybe it was the inane tweets about every morsel eaten at XOCO, but many of us are feeling social media burnout these days. Tempted to quit? Not so fast: Rather than divorce yourself from the sites completely, how about a little relationship therapy? These six fixes for everything from snooping parents to Farmville-addicted friends will reignite your passion for staying in touch online.
1 Let the right ones in
Sure, your friends, future bosses and long-lost crushes are floating around on Facebook and Twitter, but so is everyone else. “This is my last year on Facebook because I’m tired of people I’m not really friends with asking to connect online,” says Sentell Harper, a 28-year-old Logan Square resident. “My ex-boyfriend cheated on me and then three years later was like, ‘Do you want to be my friend?’ Um, no.”
The key to making Facebook and Twitter relevant is regulating your network, says Leah Jones, CEO of Edgewater-based social media coaching firm Natiiv Arts and Media. “Just because you know someone in life doesn’t mean you have to be friends with them online,” Jones says. “If you don’t like someone, don’t [accept their friend request].”
While the “just say no” philosophy may work for distant relationships and those you openly can’t stand, turning down a Facebook friend or Twitter follow request from someone you know requires a bit more finesse. “If hurting someone’s feelings might be an issue, write them an e-mail explaining that you’re not accepting their friend request because you’re limiting your network or you’re not following their Twitter feed because it’s taking up your whole stream,” Jones says. “Let them know that it doesn’t mean anything about your friendship.”
Rather sidestep that awkward e-mail exchange? Clicking the “Hide” button to the right of that person’s status update removes them from your Facebook news feed. Twitter users can do the same by creating a list of their favorite feeds that omits those they don’t like. Your now-invisible friends will never be the wiser.
2 Limit what your “friends” can see
“I hate when parents see your update and demand that you call home,” says Jamie Curran, a 29-year-old Albany Park resident. “For fuck’s sake, give it a rest.”
The solution to snooping parents (and everyone else) is separate privacy settings, says Scott Bishop, a marketing consultant who runs monthly social-media get-togethers aimed at helping users get the most out of their online networking. “Most people don’t know that Facebook allows you to put your contacts into groups so your boss doesn’t have to see that you commented on how bad your job sucks,” Bishop says. In addition to limiting which friends can see your status and photos, Facebook also allows users to remove themselves from searches, privatize their contact information and monitor who can tag photos. While the privacy settings aren’t too difficult to find (they’re under “Settings”), allfacebook.com publishes a comprehensive guide to FB privacy. And if someone adds your name to a braceface photo you hate from fifth grade, simply untag it.
3 Sort through the shit
If Facebook updates about your high-school chemistry partner moving up a level in Mafia Wars make you want to chew your wrists, you’re not alone. “I really despise all the games and applications on Facebook,” says Jill Young, a 25-year-old Lakeview resident. “I also hate the ‘people you may know’ feature. Yes, I do know them and I chose not to be their friend in real life or Facebook life!”
When Facebook gives you these inane updates, Jones advises just shutting them down. By clicking the “Hide” button to the right of a news feed post and selecting the application you hate, you can block it out but still keep your friend’s status updates. Eliminating friend suggestions is another story. You can stop Facebook from suggesting one person, “but [it] is just going to give you a suggestion of someone else,” Jones says. “You just have to learn to ignore it.”
Twitter users also complain about inane updates. “My problem with Twitter is that even interesting folk are capable of using it for nonsense,” says James Beveridge, 30, from North Center. “Lance Armstrong ate a sandwich. Kofi Annan is stuck in traffic. It’s too much information without any way of sifting through what’s important. It’s like trying to drink water from a fire hose.”
The solution is to enlist help, says 26-year-old Len Kendall of Lincoln Park, whose Twitter feed is ranked as one of the top 25 in the city (4,700 followers and counting, @lenkendall), according to a July study by HubSpot.com. “TweetDeck and Seesmic are free third-party applications that allow you to organize friends into columns so you can see what your Chicago friends are saying, what your coworkers are saying and so on [all on one screen],” Kendall says. “It prevents you from having to search through 100 status messages for the one you want.”
An additional benefit to using third-party programs, adds Bishop, is that both TweetDeck and Seesmic operate like instant-messenger programs. Instead of staying glued to a computer waiting for Twitter messages or mentions, TweetDeck and Seesmic users receive a pop-up message to their computer when they’re being talked to or about. “[TweetDeck] lets me check Twitter once or twice, add to the conversations that I’m interested in and go on with my day,” Bishop says. “Otherwise, Twitter is a huge time suck.”
4 Boot the bots
On the Internet, you’re never safe from ads, marketers and shameless self-promoters—Twitter and Facebook are no exception. “It’s a blow to your vanity when you see you have a new follower and it’s really spam,” says Tyler Coates, a 26-year-old from Logan Square.
You can’t stop bots and spammers from following you, but they’re easy to spot, so just delete them from your Twitter followers list and refuse to accept them as Facebook friends. You can also do everyone a favor by reporting them as spammers with one click. “Always be wary of those who have a lot of followers and have an equal number of people that they’re following,” Kendall says. “A lot of people use scripts or idle following programs to build an artificial following by tracking thousands of people and keeping those that follow back.”
5 Stay on top
Facebook and Twitter are constantly evolving, but not always in a good way. This past year alone, Facebook has rolled out two major redesigns—one in late March that allows users to hide updates on applications and one in October that separates a “News Feed” filled with status updates, links and uploaded content from a real-time list of everything your friends are doing on the network. While the redesigns were created to help sift the relevant from the rest, critics say Facebook should do more to help members use the new features effectively.
“Facebook and Twitter are terrible about getting information on how to use new features out to their users,” says Craig Kanalley, 23, who teaches the world’s first undergraduate class on Twitter at DePaul University. “Even their own blogs don’t really outline the changes in a clear way.”
6 Keep yourself clean
“We threw a party at my house and my stepmother passed out early,” says Steven A., 22, of Edgewater. “As a joke, her friends took a picture of her with a 14-inch dildo next to her mouth and put it on Facebook. I have a little brother and sister, 10 and 8, who saw it. She had to explain what it was.”
While users can untag their names from unflattering Facebook photos, targets of negative tweets and status updates are stuck with them. “When something’s juicy, particularly a rumor, it can fly really quickly,” Kanalley says. “Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop it other than just tweeting a correction and hoping that other people pick it up.”