Facebook lately has been getting absolutely destroyed in the media, with allegations of, to be quite honest, absolute trash handling and misuse of user data. I am sure most of you must have read a headline or two about this. Mark Zuckerberg even had to go and testify in front of the United States Congress after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
If you are a Facebook user with the primary intent of just keeping up with friends and posting the occasional photo here and there, you might be wondering if this should worry you and if so, why. If you do manage to stick around to the end of this post, even to the end of the first three sections, you’ll get both, the answer to your primary question and the reason it is a resounding “YES”.
If you are not being charged for the product, you are the product. In this post, I will be going through the various steps of the process by which Facebook turns you into the product, sells you and what you can do to mitigate it if not completely stop it. For easy reading, I have divided it into the following sections –
- What is Data Mining?
- How Facebook Tracks You
- How Facebook Sells You
- How Facebook Has Misused Your Data
- What You Share With Facebook vs What You Share With Friends
- Controlling What Facebook Knows About You
- Controlling What You Share With Friends
- What You See on Facebook
- Controlling Your Feed
- It’s The Little Things
- In Hindsight
Every section is interlinked and I recommend reading through the whole thing. Click on any section above to jump to it. To begin, we need to understand the core principle on which Facebook works: Data Mining.
What is Data Mining?
Data mining is the process of using algorithms to extract useful information from huge sets of data. Basically, companies use software to look into large batches of data in order to learn more about their customers, develop better marketing strategies and increase sales.
Here is a good example of data mining I came across –
Grocery Stores: A lot of these stores offer free membership cards to customers. These cards give customers access to member only discounts along with other little benefits and can be quite tempting. The real purpose of these cards though, is to make it easy for the stores to track their customers’ purchasing habits. Who is buying what, when they are buying it and at what price they are buying it. This allows the stores to offer targeted coupons to customers, analyse purchasing habits, predict when there will be a high demand for a product with the help of the aforementioned purchasing habits, manipulate prices and so on. Target, a major United States supermarket chain even managed to accurately identify a teenage girl’s pregnancy with this process. Like, I don’t even know anymore.
How Facebook Tracks You
Facebook uses multiple methods to track you. It collects information about various different aspects of your activities through its sophisticated applications to better identify you for ad networks. Here I am going to be listing some of its processes for collecting your data. Further down the article I am also going to be explaining ways to reduce the amount of data it collects through these methods.
All this comes under Data Mining. After analysing the vast amount of data it collects, Facebook creates a list of your engagement patterns, interests, demographic, career and more. This helps advertisers on the platform who it sells this data to, provide targeted advertisements.
Your Social Activity: This should have been obvious by now. By signing up for the service you are essentially giving Facebook access to everything you do on the website. This means your photos, videos, messages, people you have friended, pages you have liked, events you are interested in, groups you have joined and so on. It keeps track of all your activity on the website itself and analyses most of it to serve you advertisements.
This is also applicable to other applications which the company owns, notably: Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and Portal.
Connected Applications: When you log into other applications/websites with your Facebook profile, you not only give that application access to your Facebook data, you also give Facebook access to all your activities in that application. The company collects information like why you use that app, your friends who also use it, your hardware, your devices and so on. This also applies for websites you log into with your Facebook account.
Your Location Data: All applications provided by the company request access to your device’s location data. The company keeps track of literally every move you make, building a precise location history and using it to serve you relevant advertisements.
Your Mouse Movements: Facebook tracks your mouse movements on the website, how long you hovered over an advertisement, whether you clicked on it, how long you read a post before scrolling and so on. It uses this data to provide engagement insights for advertisements and determine your interests.
Your Devices: It collects information about all the devices you own, your hardware, operating system, software versions, battery levels, signal strength, storage space and much, much more. If you are wondering how it might use this data, here is what Uber concluded after analysing this kind of data –
Your Text Messages and Phone Calls: On Android, it can also keep a log of all your text messages and phone calls. It requests access to this feature and for users who do not care about the silly little popups on their phones, tough shit; they should have paid more attention.
Your Web Activity: To understand how Facebook tracks you on the web and uses your browsing history to display you relevant advertisements, we need to learn how Facebook advertisements work in the first place. For that, you need to scroll down.
How Facebook Sells You
There are two different kinds of advertisements on Facebook: Targeted Advertisements and Re-targeted Advertisements.
Targeted Ads rely on who you are while Re-targeted Ads rely on what you do.
Targeted ads are displayed in accordance to your alternate profile which Facebook has data mined from your activity on its website and its applications. This typically involves your interests, your engagement activity, your demographic and more. On the right is an image of the targeting options Facebook provides for advertisers. Also, for the mobile users, that image is down below. Like, look around people, it’s on here somewhere.
Re-targeted ads are displayed in accordance with your browser’s history and your web activity. I will be going a little in depth into how re-targeted ads work here –
You might have seen the “Allow Cookies?” pop up on a number of websites these days. I’ll get into why you started seeing the above message in the first place, later on in this article but here is what you need to know about cookies –
- Cookies are small snippets of data that a website stores on your computer in your browser and can later retrieve.
- The pieces of information in a cookie are stored as name-value pairs.
For example, let’s say when you visit Amazon, it stores a Main User ID, a Session ID and so on. Hence there will a section with the name as “Main User ID” and the value as the Main User ID which has been generated, another section with the name as “Session ID” and the value as the Session ID which has been generated and so on.
Cookies inherently, aren’t bad. It’s the ways they can be used that makes them a vital part of understanding your privacy on the internet. A couple of examples of ways cookies can be genuinely helpful for both the website and the customer –
Storing User Preferences: Cookies can be used to store the customisation preferences of a visitor who is not logged in.
Determining Unique Visitor Count: A unique User ID can be stored on the visitor’s machine when they access a website for the first time. When they go to the website again, it can check the user’s cookies to see if they have already been assigned a unique User ID. If they have, it means that they are a returning user and are not to be counted amongst the number of unique visitors the website receives.
Storing Shopping Carts: Cookies can contain the ID of the products you have added to your cart. Hence, if you close the website before checking out and visit it again later, it will have your cart items saved.
Re-targeting is a way to serve ads to people across the web who have already visited your website. There are two main types of re-targeting campaigns; I will be taking the example of the e-commerce website Amazon to explain these –
Pixel-Based: This is the most common type of re-targeting. When you visit Amazon, the website places a cookie in your browser with IDs of the products you browsed. When you go around the web and come across an advertisement space purchased by Amazon, it runs code to access the cookie data stored in your browser and displays an advertisement for the products you have already taken a look at.
List-Based: This works if you already have an account on Amazon. Instead of storing the products you browsed in a cookie, it stores them in a database with your email linked to it. When you go to Facebook and come across an advertisement spot purchased by Amazon, it runs code to access that database this time. It matches the email linked to your Facebook account with the email with Amazon’s database, thus gaining access to the products you have browsed. It then displays an advertisement for these products.
Whenever you are displayed an advertisement, there are two parties involved. The website on which the advertisement is displayed is called the Publisher. The company whose advertisement is displayed is called the Advertiser.
The job of an Ad Network is to bring these two together. An Ad Network gets in touch with a bunch of Publishers and determines the amount of ad space available. Advertisers can then sign up on the Ad Network and select how much they are willing to pay to show advertisements on various publishers/networks like Facebook (via Facebook Exchange). This is called creating a campaign.
Facebook Exchange (FBX)
Facebook Exchange is a real-time bidding platform which enables Facebook to sell ad slots to the highest bidders in fractions of a second. To understand how this works, here is a timeline of events –
- Amazon is signed up with an Ad Network. The Ad Network is partnered with Facebook and has access to Facebook Exchange.
- You visit Amazon. Amazon drops a cookie on your machine which stores the products you browsed. Along with the product list, it also stores a unique User ID given to them by Facebook (via the Ad Network). Ideally, when this User ID is requested from the Facebook’s servers to be stored on your machine, you are already logged into Facebook, thus allowing the product data to be directly associated with your Facebook account.
- Amazon then provides the cookie data to the Ad Network which in turn provides it to Facebook.
- When you come across an ad space, Facebook checks the unique User ID it has generated for you and cross-references it with the one provided by the Ad Network to see if you are indeed the same individual.
- If it is, Facebook puts a request on Facebook Exchange saying “Here’s a user you might be interested in. How much are you willing to pay to show them an advertisement?”
- The Ad Network then makes a bid for an advertisement on behalf of Amazon, with the highest bidder winning like in any other auction and you see an advertisement.
In Facebook’s case, the advertisement is coming directly from Facebook and Facebook effectively DOES know what’s inside it, as well as every other site you’ve accessed that has an agreement with them (which is a lot). In fact, Facebook doesn’t just know about your interactions with advertising partners. Facebook knows about every page you visit that includes a Facebook Like button because that Like button is served from the Facebook servers, which means a communication happens there, along with your Facebook ID.
You might be thinking “if all my data is used for is to serve me advertisements, it’s not as harmful as it sounds. I could just use an Ad Blocker and be done with it.” And that is where I am going to tell you that it is way more harmful than it sounds.
See, the first issue is that no company should store this much data and know what Facebook does about its users. Can people really trust anyone with this much information about their private life?
The second issue is that Facebook hasn’t been at all responsible with user data.
How Facebook Has Misused Your Data
The company has been at the centre of various scandals throughout the past year. The Cambridge Analytica being one of the bigger ones.
Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal
To summarise, in 2016 Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm with the help of Aleksandr Kogan, a data scientist at Cambridge University, developed a Facebook application called “This Is Your Digital Life”. The firm then organised an informed consent process (basically a survey) for research in which approximately 270,000 users would agree to complete a survey (see? I told you) only for academic use.
However, Facebook API allowed the researchers to gain access to the data of the friends of these 270,000 users as well. This turned the number from 270,000 to over 87 million users. That’s a big number.
The key part in this whole situation is that the firm Cambridge Analytica was founded by Steve Bannon, the senior adviser to Trump who also became the White House Chief Strategist when Trump won the Presidency. It was Bannon who approached the Trump Campaign with the data gained through this research experiment. That’s a big oopsie. #SubscribeToPewdiepie
Here is an article by Vox on this topic –
Here are a few more links on the misuse of user data by Facebook –
What You Share With Facebook vs What You Share With Friends
Before we get to controlling your data, it is a good idea to actually see for yourself what data Facebook has on you.
There is a fundamental difference between what you share with Facebook and what you share with friends. The privacy options which are provided on the base level, or what you see if you don’t look deep enough do not control what you share with Facebook. They are mostly referencing what other people on Facebook can see about you. This is something people often get confused about. Setting the privacy of your profile to private does not stop Facebook from collecting your data. Like, c’mon people.
The answer to the question “What does Facebook know about me?” really depends on the type of user you are.
If you go through all your settings once in a while and pay some attention to the pop ups on your phone, the answer is going to be “this guy is definitely more cautious than others”. However, if you are like the average Facebook user, who never really bothers to go through the settings or pay attention to pop up notifications, the answer is quite literally, “everything”.
The best way to actually get an idea of the amount of information Facebook has on you is to simply download your data. Here is the link to do so.
But there is more. Click on the “Your Facebook Information” option which Facebook has added recently, years after the website’s launch, you’ll be taken to the screen below. Click on the “View” button next to “Access Your Information” and you’ll be able to see all the data Facebook has on you, categorised.
This is everything you have entered, uploaded and shared on Facebook.
Hit “Expand All” in the top right to expand all the sub sections.
Posts: Every post you have shared on Facebook or been tagged in has been recorded.
Photos and Videos: Every photo or video that you have uploaded to Facebook or been tagged in.
Comments: Every comment you’ve made.
Likes and Reactions: Every post, comment and page you’ve liked or reacted to.
Friends: All your current and past friends on Facebook with emphasis on “past”; Facebook has a record of every person you have unfriended as well.
Following and Followers: People and organisations you follow and vice versa.
Messages: Literally every conversation you’ve had with people on Facebook and Messenger.
Groups: Your activity in the groups you belong to or manage.
Events: All the events you have created, been interested in and even rejected. This also includes all the events you have been invited to.
Profile Information: Your contact details, your profile data and your life events.
Pages: Pages you manage.
Marketplace: If you have ever used the Facebook Marketplace, this contains all your interactions on the platform.
Payment History: Any payments you have made through Facebook. This includes payments made in the old school Facebook applications and games as well.
Saved items: Any posts, photos and videos you might have saved.
Your Places: Any places you might have created on the platform. Note, this is different from your location history which I cover over here.
Apps and Websites: As I mentioned earlier, Facebook collects data when you log into applications using its API. This sub section also includes applications you might have created and applications who have access to post on your timeline on your behalf. I have covered the applications section thoroughly here.
Information About You
This is information that Facebook has data mined and analysed about you.
About You –
Face Recognition: Here.
Your Address Books: If you choose to give Messenger or Facebook access to the Contacts List on your smartphone, it keeps a record.
Videos You’ve Watched: Videos you’ve watched I guess.
Search History: Anything you searched for on Facebook.
Location History: Here.
Calls and Messages: Users who do not give much care to pop ups on their Android phones can sometimes unknowingly allow Facebook access to their call and SMS logs. This basically allows the company to store a record of every call and message made on your phone.
Security and Login Information: This is a history of devices you have logged in on, information about your sessions and your log in history. This also contains a list of devices you have authorised.
Controlling What Facebook Knows About You
I will be going through various methods of controlling your data in this section. Controlling what Facebook knows about you begins with controlling the shady advertisement tactics of the website.
The Washington Post compiled a list of 98 data points Facebook uses to target ads to you. Here they are –
To control these data points and reduce the amount of data Facebook collects, we are going to have to take a dive into the advertisement settings of the website. Here I am going to be explaining how to navigate to these settings and what each of them control.
Also, the only reason Facebook even provided access to these settings is because of GDPR. Just keep that in mind as we go through them.
Click on the “Ads” section in your settings panel.
The first three sections on this page are about the data Facebook has collected on you by tracking you across the web. The remaining two are about actually disabling some of this tracking.
You can navigate the different categories your interests have been divided into.
There are 3 primary reasons why a topic might show up in this section –
- Clicked on an advertisement related to that topic.
- You liked a page related to that topic.
- You installed an application.
Hover over any of these topics and you can see a tool tip explaining why it has been added to your interests.
You can click on the cross button on the tile to remove that topic from your interests. By removing interests, you are basically stating that you want to stop seeing ads about these topics.
You can also click on a topic to see a preview of advertisements you might see on Facebook.
This section is about all the advertisers whose advertisements you have interacted with.
Who use a contact list added to Facebook: This is a prime example of list-based re-targeting I covered earlier in this post. This is a collection of every advertiser using the data you provided them, to find you on Facebook and display ads to you.
Whose website or app you’ve used: If you logged into an app/website with your Facebook account and that app/website runs advertisements on Facebook, it will show up here. Refer to connected applications here.
Who you’ve visited: Example of pixel-based re-targeting I explained before.
Whose ads you’ve clicked on: Determined on the basis of engagement insights Facebook collects. Collection of every advertiser whose advertisement you have clicked on.
There are two sub sections here –
About You: The information you’ve provided on your profile which can be used to determine your demographic and serve you targeted ads. You can and should turn off all these data points.
Your Categories: This is quite interesting. It is a collection of categories Facebook has added you to after analysing your data. This helps advertisers precisely target people.
I mean, you can’t deny that it’s fun seeing how you have been labelled when going through this section. If you refer to the data points mentioned in the Washington Post article, you’ll find that most of these are in that list.
Click on the cross icon next to each item to remove it.
These settings actually allow you to disable some of Facebook’s tracking across the internet. Facebook Company Products here refer to WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram and so on.
Ads based on data from partners: This basically allows you to turn off re-targeting.
Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products: This turns off advertisements based on your activity on Facebook products. You see these on any website which uses Facebook’s advertising services to display ads to visitors.
Ads that include your social actions: If you liked a Page running an advertisement or commented on an ad, Facebook can use your interaction with that ad to display it to your friends. While this is really fucking clever, you should turn it off. I am sure quite a few of you must have seen an ad with a caption above it stating “John Doe likes this.” or something along the lines of that.
Hide Ad Topics
This is a brief list of topics you can disable ads for. While I don’t know why Facebook decided on these specific “sensitive” three topics, you still should turn them all off.
That was it for controlling advertisements. The next step is going through the applications connected to your Facebook account.
Whenever you log into a website with your Facebook account, click on one of those quizzes on your timeline or sign into an application on your smartphone with Facebook, you are basically giving a third party access to your Facebook data. This in turn also allows Facebook to collect information the third party has on you.
Here I am going to be addressing the way of managing applications connected to your account.
There easiest way to access this section is by navigating to your base settings panel and clicking on “Apps and websites” in the sidebar. The page is divided into three main categories of applications –
- Data Access: Active
- Data Access: Expired
- Data Access: Removed
Data Access: Active
These are applications which you have used Facebook to log into and are currently actively accessing your information. This means that the app can request more data and that request is automatically approved. You can use this section to select what data you want to share with an app and remove any websites or apps you want.
Click on an app in this section, it opens the following modal window –
This window consists of the information this app needs and has requested. There is a difference between the mandatory information required by the app to function and other optional information it has requested.
You can see in the above instance that the name and profile picture are necessary while the date of birth, home town, current city, email address are all optional and can be turned off with the toggle next to each of them.
The App visibility option controls who on Facebook can see that you use this app. You can also individually turn off notifications for this app or turn off notifications for all apps in the preferences section below.
Data Access: Expired
These are applications which you had provided access to your data, but due to infrequent use, their information privilege has expired. Therefore, they can request more data but you have to manually approve that request.
Now this doesn’t mean that they have lost access to data they had already collected. As it states, “They may still have access to information you previously shared, but their ability to make addition requests for private information has expired.” This means that they still have whatever data you had previously shared with them but need your permission to access more.
If you click on one of these apps, you can configure the settings I showed in the previous section.
Data Access: Removed
These are applications that you’ve manually removed from your account. They cannot request more data on you from Facebook.
Again, this means that they still have data you had previously shared with them, they just have lost access to requesting more information.
In the Preferences section of this page, you can turn off a few annoying features.
Apps, websites and games: This setting basically allows you to log into different websites and applications with your Facebook account. I wouldn’t recommend turning this off since it is sometimes faster and easier to log in with your Facebook account instead of manually signing up. However the key part is choosing where to sign up with your Facebook and where to do it manually.
Game and App Notifications: Oh thank fuck for this. This stops people from sending you game and app requests. Turn this off if you don’t play any games on Facebook or use any applications like that fake makeup stuff. These apps request a lot of data from your profile and make a ton of profit by selling your information.
Old versions of Facebook for mobile: This setting is a part of controlling what you share with friends. This references posts before Facebook provided you with the option of selecting the audience for every single post. With this setting, you can select who can see your extremely old content.
Your Location History
Facebook uses the location settings on your smartphone to create a precise location history of you every day. Click on the “Location” tab in the left and you’ll be presented with the page below –
Click on “View your location history” to see what location data Facebook has on you. It neatly displays your recent locations on a map and you can see for yourself how it literally knows your every move.
Turn off Location Access for Facebook in your phone settings.
Facebook also analyses the photos you post or get tagged in to better learn about your face. It then uses this information to identify you in other photos and videos. You should turn this off in the settings.
General Data Protection Regulation is the European Union privacy law which replaced the European Data Protection Directive (1995) on May 25th, 2018. It was approved in the April of 2016 and provided companies with more than 2 years to adapt their products to the new regulations
The law applies to any business which processes the personal data of EU citizens. Facebook falls into this category and hence had to provide users access to a vast number of settings never seen before. I am not going to be going into the specifics since that deserves its own post but the basic intent of GDPR is to protect the personal data of EU citizens. To do this, it provides them with certain rights, the most important two being:
Right to Access: Users should have access to information about what data a company has on them, how it is using that information and where it is using that information.
Right to be Forgotten: This entitles users to have their personal data be deleted from a company and stop it from being further used and distributed by third parties.
So the fact that Facebook has provided its users access to these settings is not out of good will. It’s because they are legally required to comply or face penalties. And this can be seen because since the day Facebook has finally revealed all the data it collects, it has been in hot water. No company would willingly shoot itself in the foot. To be fair, you never know with corporate but I am certain about this one.
Controlling What You Share With Friends
In this section, I will be going through the Privacy Settings provided by Facebook to help you control what you share with other people on the platform. This includes your friends and even the public if you choose so. I will not be going through each and every setting but only the most important ones. Some of these are pretty self explanatory.
Here are a few definitions to remember though –
Everyone: People who are your friends and people who are not your friends.
Friends of Friends: People who have a mutual friend with you.
Friends: Your friends.
Only Me: Only You.
Let’s take a look at the base Privacy Options.
You can find these in the settings panel.
Who can see your future posts?: This setting controls the privacy of any posts you create after making any changes to this. This does not control your past posts.
Review all your posts and things you’re tagged in: I cover the Activity Log here.
Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with Friends of Friends or Public? : This option limits the audience of any Public posts you might have made in the past to Friends Only.
Who can send you friend requests?: If you want, you can limit the friend requests you receive to friends of your friends thus guaranteeing a mutual connection. This is helpful if you’re getting bombarded with friend requests, basically if you are the hot girl in college. I recommend keeping this option to Everyone since it only allows the people to send friend requests, not interact with you.
Who can look you up using the email address you provided?: If you want anyone to be able to enter your email address in the search bar and be able to find you, set this option to Everyone. I recommend setting it to the base option of Friends Only.
Who can look you up using the phone number you provided?: Same as above.
Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your Profile? : This option basically allows users to Google search you and find you on Facebook.
Timeline and Tagging Settings
These settings control the exposure settings of your timeline. From here, you can control exactly who sees what on your timeline, who can tag you in stuff and who can post on your timeline. Timeline is what people see when they visit your profile.
A key thing to understanding timeline and audience settings is that posts can show up on your timeline and still not be visible to everyone. Here is an example: A friend tags you in a photo. You choose that it can show up on your timeline. It shows up. You then choose to hide it from strangers while still being visible to your friends. Now when a friend visits your profile, they can see the post but when a stranger visits it, they can’t.
Who can see what others post on your timeline?: Use this option to control who can view any posts made by other people on your timeline.
Who can see posts that you’re tagged in on your timeline? : This setting decides the audience who can view any post you’re tagged in on your timeline. If you have the manual review (bottom two) options turned on, posts you’re tagged in still have to be manually approved before they appear on your timeline. This settings controls who can see these posts when browsing your profile.
When you’re tagged in a post, who do you want to add to the audience of the post if they can’t already see it?: If a friend tags you in a post, do you want your friends to be able to see it? If yes, select “Friends”, else set it to “Only Me”.
You can also manually approve tagged posts before they show up on your timeline –
Review posts that you’re tagged in before the posts appear on your timeline: This allows you to use the all activity page to review posts you’re tagged in before they appear on your timeline. You can either approve them, disapprove them (hide them from your timeline) or remove the tag completely.
Review tags that people add to your posts before the tags appear on Facebook?: If someone tags a friend in a photo you uploaded, do you want to manually review the tag before it appears on your timeline and other parts of Facebook?
You can access it from the menu in the top right.
While the other options in the sidebar on this “All Activity” page are basically what is displayed categorised on the “Your Facebook Information” page, the Activity Log and the Review Tools serve completely different purposes.
This allows you to see all comments, likes and posts made from your account in a reverse chronological order IE. most recent first. Basically all your activity. You can choose to edit or delete anything you might want to.
The next two settings are only applicable if you have turned on the manual review options mentioned in the previous section.
This allows you to review any posts others may have made on your timeline before they become visible on your profile.
Any posts or photos you are tagged in show up here for review before the tag becomes visible to the public.
If you have Face Recognition turned on, any photos where you have been identified by Facebook will come up here for review.
What You See on Facebook
The News Feed on Facebook has its fair share of issues. It is what Facebook manipulates to show you targeted content. I will be going through the problems with the Facebook News Feed in this section and explaining how to fix them in the next one.
Years ago, the News Feed used to consist of the most recent social activities of your friends. Facebook changed it to serve you with posts that it thinks are important i.e. Top Stories. It’s a change no one liked but it was here to stay. Also, the preferences option in the image above does not allow you to change that.
Facebook instead of serving tradition advertisements which can be blocked by an Ad Blocker, disguises them to look like a post on your news feed. This prevents the user from being able to instantly distinguish between a post from their friends and an ad. Here are a few examples of these ads you might see –
This is content suggested to you on the basis of your engagement with other posts. Another one of the various ways Facebook disguises its advertisements.
People You May Know
Sometimes random people with a couple of mutual friends are recommended to you in the News Feed.
Facebook also regularly recommends posts and videos that it thinks you might be interested in. In most of the cases, you have never heard about the poster or the content and it just takes up space.
Controlling Your Feed
With the amount of garbage in the News Feed, it is easy to lose focus on the main purpose of Facebook: Keeping up with your friends. This is where Social Fixer comes in. Social Fixer is a browser extension which basically fixes a lot of terrible things about the Facebook News Feed and makes it usable. In this section, I will be going through the various ways in which you can use this extension to greatly improve your Facebook experience.
Just like any other extension, it is available in the extension store for the browser you are using.
Chrome – Here.
Firefox – Here.
Additionally you can find download links for various other browsers on the extension’s official website here.
To install in Chrome, simply go to the store page and click on “Add to Chrome”.
To begin, open up Facebook and you’ll see a wrench icon in the top right. Click on it and select “Social Fixer Options”. I will be going through the most important options which need to be enabled in order for this to work.
Select the General category in the left sidebar and enable the following options –
Automatically Switch to Most Recent view of the main News Feed: Like I mentioned before, Facebook sorts your News Feed on the basis of content it thinks you will be interested in. This changes the view back to a reverse chronological order which means that the most recent stories will show up first.
Check for Filtered Messages: This alerts you if there are any messages which Facebook has filtered. Filtered messages are messages from people who are not your friends on the platform. It can also sometimes contain pages which Facebook has detected you have no relation with.
Friend Manager: This keeps track of people in your Friends List who might have deactivated or deleted their accounts and alerts you about the same.
Run on Apps and Games Pages: This makes sure that the extension is doing its job on the aforementioned pages.
After turning on these options, your screen should look like the image on the right.
This is the section we are most interested in. This allows you to select the content you might want to hide from your News Feed.
To enable, click on the green Plus Icon on the right of the following options –
Hide Sponsored/Suggested Posts (2018-11-29): This is the latest set of filters for hiding any kind of sponsored/suggested posts in your News Feed. Basically, this is the option that hides the advertisements.
Hide “People You May Know”: This hides the prompt Facebook displays containing people it thinks you might be interested in.
Friend Activity Stories: This hides stories about things your friends liked, were tagged in and so on, but which they didn’t actually create. This helps keep the content in your feed relevant to you.
Saved Posts Reminder: This hides the prompt Facebook displays to remind you about things you might have saved recently.
In the Hide Posts section, uncheck everything. This prevents the extension from displaying messages in place of hidden posts thus stopping it from unnecessarily using up space.
Backing Up Your Preferences
The extension also has a feature for backing up your preferences for restoration in case of need. All you need to do is to go to the “Data Import/Export” section, select “Export To File” and save it to any location you want. When you reinstall Social Fixer, click on “Import From File” and the extension will automatically adjust all settings. See the image for reference.
It’s The Little Things
Here are a few more things to keep in mind when using Facebook or browsing the web in general –
- Do not use unnecessary applications on Facebook.
- Pay attention to the data requested by an application on Facebook as well as on your mobile phone. Why does that weather app need access to your phone calls?
- Do not give random applications on your phone access to your location data.
- Periodically review the applications you use.
Turn off email notifications for social activity – Facebook often spams your email account with hundreds of emails about every social activity in relation to you on the platform. Turn these off here.
Turn off text notifications for social activity – You do not need an SMS every time someone likes a photo of you. Turn these off here.
Turn off more notifications – You can also choose to turn off notifications about live videos and the marketplace platform (items Facebook thinks you might be interested in). Manage these here.
Use a Competent Ad Blocker
uBlock Origin is hands down the best ad blocker on the market. uBlock has more lists, is open source and pretty much blocks everything it can. This also includes trackers and malware. It also uses much less system resources and thus runs smoothly.
Other Browsers: Here.
Facebook is a fantastic idea implemented by a terrible company. Social Networks have become a necessity today for keeping up with the people in our lives. Sure they are addicting for some but you can’t deny the important service they provide: Providing you access the events around the world by creating direct interactions with people from all walks of life. And that makes them more of a public necessity than a luxury. So until someone whose integrity is more than their desire for money, decides to take one for the team and build a better product, these things will keep on controlling us and our daily lives.
Also, for anyone who is reading from the USA, Hindsight is Bernie 2020.