The world's biggest social network turned 10 this year. With 57% of the American population — and 73% of teenagers — among its user base, Facebook has morphed from a way for college undergrads to communicate to a multi-tentacled service that has become an integral part of our everyday life. From connecting us with long-lost friends to serving as the internet's de facto photo-sharing service to doubling as a universal login to thousands of sites and apps across the internet.
But with regular introductions of privacy-flouting new features and different sets of etiquette for connecting with colleagues, friends, and family, it can be all too easy to make a Facebook misstep that sends the wrong message into the world.
Below are five of the most-common Facebook faux pas – and how to avoid them.
1. Not putting a professional face forward
If you haven't been keeping an eye on your privacy settings, photos and posts intended for friends can end up on your boss's newsfeed. A CareerBuilder study found that nearly 39% of employers use social media to screen job candidates, and a 2012 report from technology research company Gartner predicted that by 2015, 60% of employers will be monitoring employees on social networks.
If your boss is your Facebook friend, you can prevent him or her from seeing what you post by going to Settings > Privacy > “Who can see my future posts”, selecting “Custom” from the dropdown menu and add their names. To keep them from seeing posts and photos you're tagged in, go to Settings > Timeline and tagging > “Who can see things on my timeline,” select Custom from the dropdown menu, and add their names.
If your boss or potential employer isn't your Facebook friend, simply go to Settings > Privacy then select “Friends only” as the audience for “Who can see my future posts” and “Limit past posts.” On the same page, you can also edit who can look you up — public, friends of friends, or friends only — and disable Google and other search engines from linking to your Facebook profile.
Finally, you can create a Restricted list — anyone on this list can only see the information and posts you make public. This can be an effective way to avoid looking suspiciously absent from Facebook, without giving up too much information. Head to Settings > Blocking, and edit “Restricted List.”
In all cases, if you and your boss have mutual friends, he or she will still be able to view any posts or photos you may be tagged in with those friends.
2. Oversharing, oversharing, oversharing
We've all done it, but now there’s proof that oversharing is the easiest way to get unfriended on Facebook. A study by Christopher Sibona at the University of Colorado Denver found that the top four reasons people delete friends are because their posts are frequent or trivial posts, polarizing, inappropriate, or too mundane.
“Share things that are meaningful, witty, newsy or interesting — and be discriminating in how often you post on Facebook,” recommends Jessica Kleiman, a communications specialist and co-author of the book Be Your Own Best Publicist.
Still, that doesn't mean there isn't an audience for that polemic on national politics (or what you had for breakfast). If there are particular people you think would appreciate more controversial — or more mundane — statuses, you can customize the audience for individual posts. Below the status box, click the tab next to “Post” and select Custom to bring up options for “Who Should See this?.” You can then select a specific audience such as Close Friends, or a custom list (if you made one), say for your sports league. You can also select Custom and manually enter friends that can or can't view the post. You can make this setting your default to avoid future oversharing.
However, Kleiman cautions, “even if you use filters on Facebook to keep your posts only visible by ‘friends,’ one of your 850 closest friends online is probably friends with someone you wouldn't want to see that post.”
3. Allowing Facebook apps to overshare for you
Along with posts about that ham and cheese toastie you were eating, oversharing may take the form of posts by apps you've linked to Facebook.
Privacy protection company Secure.me found that 63% of apps request the ability to post on the user's behalf. While giving this permission may allow your info to be shared where it shouldn't, more irking is the fact that, say, Spotify can post what ‘80s pop ballad you're listening to, or Candy Crush Saga can update all your friends on your progress.
You can allow or disallow third-party apps to post to Facebook when signing up, but if you didn't do that, you can edit all permissions from a single page. Select Activity Log from the top right dropdown menu on your profile or news feed, then All Apps (on the left) to view posts made by apps.
To prevent individual apps from posting, hit More (under All Apps), scroll to the offending app, then click the top-right arrow to customize where the app can post to on your behalf — certain friends, all friends, or not at all. You can also tweak the audience for each post by clicking its lock icon. Click the neighboring pen icon to remove the post from your Timeline, mark it as spam, or delete the app from your Facebook profile entirely.
4. Allowing others to post content about you that you don’t like
A Pew Research Center survey found that one of the aspects users most disliked about Facebook was that friends can post personal content, such as photos, about a user without his or her permission.
If you've been tagged in an unflattering photo, you can remove the tag by clicking on the photo, hovering over its base, and selecting Options / Remove Tag, so that the picture will not turn up in “Photos of You.” To stop it from appearing on your profile page, you must separately toggle “Allow on timeline” to “Hide from Timeline” in the top-right of the window. However, the photo can still be viewed in other people's news feeds and the poster's albums page, so if you abhor the picture, contact your so-called friend and ask them to take it down.
You can also disable certain — or all — people from posting on your Timeline. Go to Settings > Timeline and Tagging > “Who can add things to my timeline” and select “Only Me.” *(Friends will still be able to view your Timeline.)
To block particular people, head to Settings > Blocking, and add the names to the Restricted list. Then go to Settings > Timeline and Tagging > “Who can add things to my timeline,” and select “Friends.” Friends on the restricted list won't be able to post on your Timeline, or view it unless you have set it to be public.
5. Being resigned to a boring news feed
Does it feel like you're reading more and more posts from friends you don't really care about? You're probably not imagining it. In December, Facebook updated its newsfeed algorithm to push up posts with links and push down memes. Links with more comments were also favored. Stories that show up are also influenced by which friends you interact with the most.
Meanwhile, a Stanford University study found that user posts that aren't liked or commented on tend to be viewed by fewer people, so you may find that your college buddy's engagement announcement floats to the top of your feed, while your best friend's gripe about the cost of daycare is nowhere to be seen.
To get around this, head to your feed, click on “News Feed” in the top left, and toggle the option to show Most Recent instead of Top Stories. To ensure particular friends' posts pop up on your feed, add them to your Close Friends list. On your news feed, scroll down the left-hand menu, hover over Friends and click More > Close friends, then add their names in the right-side text bar. Hit Manage List in the top right to select the particular types of updates you get — for example, photos and status updates, but not games or comments.
If someone's status updates are getting on your nerves, but you're not quite ready to unfriend them, you can unsubscribe from their updates entirely by clicking in the top right of the offending status in your news feed, then selecting “Hide All.”
[astonished woman with laptop image via Shutterstock]