Avoiding Facebook and Twitter Disasters

Avoid Facebook Disasters

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Too Many Pieces of Flair

The disaster: Donna has accepted one too many gifts of Star Wars figurines and cutesy buttons--and now her profile page is stuffed with enough frivolous junk to embarrass a fourth-grader. That page didn't go over well with the hiring manager at the job she was ap­­plying for. She heard through the grapevine that she didn't get the gig because he found her page and thought she wasn't serious enough to merit an offer.

The solution: Paring down the digital clutter isn't as tough as cleaning out the garage, but it does take some effort. However, if you allowed, say, a trivial quiz to drop a box into the left column of your Info page, it's relatively easy to get rid of. Just click the pencil icon located in the top-right corner of the box and then select Remove Box.

Avoid unwanted postings by clicking 'Edit Settings' to control what third-party apps can autopost to your profile; as a stronger measure, clicking the X deletes them altogether.
Nondefault applications that have been added to the main column on your Info page require a little more work: Click the Applications button in the bottom left of the screen, and then click Edit Applications at the bottom of that list. On the page that appears, browse to find the application you'd like to re­­move. Click Edit Settings, and then click remove next to ‘Info Section'. You can also remove unwanted tabs this way, by clicking remove next to ‘Tab'.

Next, turn an eye toward locking down what applications-whether they appear on your page or not-are permitted to post to your account. On the Privacy Settings page, click News Feed and Wall, and you can start paring down the amount of junk that Facebook uses to automatically populate your Recent Activity. What you choose here is a matter of personal preference, and how spare you want your page to appear. Unchecking boxes on this page means fewer items on your profile. The selections are largely self-explanatory, so tweak at will.

But just removing an application box on your Profile page does not remove the app from your profile completely. To do that, you have to go behind the scenes a little. Click the Applications button at the bottom left of the page, and then click Edit Applications in the menu that pops up. Change the ‘Show' drop-down to ‘Authorized', and you'll see every application that you have given access to your profile. If you're like me, you'll have dozens and you won't remember most of them.

First, delete anything you no longer use (or want to use) by clicking the X, then Remove at the pop-up. For the apps you wish to keep, you can make them less chatty by clicking Edit Settings. Click Additional Permissions and uncheck Publish recent activity to my wall, and you'll no longer see updates when you play a Facebook game or send a goofy "gift" to your girlfriend.

Shoulda Been Working

Illustration by Mick Wiggins
The disaster: Dylan spent almost an hour playing a Flash game on a Web site when he was supposed to be working on a report for the boss. He didn't get caught-but the game posted his high score to his Facebook profile without his knowledge. The boss saw that score on his Wall, which earned Dylan a lecture about wasting company resources.

The solution: Putting aside whether he should have been playing the game, Dylan would have been better served by turning off the ability for third-party Web sites to post to his profile, a feature known as Facebook Beacon.

To disable this, visit Privacy Settings, then Applications. Click the Settings tab. Scroll down and check Don't allow Beacon websites to post stories to my profile, under the Facebook Beacon header.

The Tell-Tale Heart

The disaster: Nancy broke up with her boyfriend and changed her relationship status to ‘single'. Now a giant red heart is announcing her newfound availability to the world. An item in the right-hand ‘Highlights' column announces the fact to all her friends. The trouble is, the thing looks like a singles ad.

Wall posts can be endlessly tweaked. If you blow through significant others, consider unchecking 'Change relationship status'.
The solution: It may not be instantly obvious, but you can delete anything from your Wall. Just hover over the item you want to get rid of, and you'll see a ‘Remove' button suddenly appear to the right of said item. Click that button, and the item is gone for good.

Smile for the Camera

The disaster: Someone tagged Ben in a photo on Facebook, and he hates the shot, taken at a party--his eyes are closed, and he's clearly inebriated.

The solution: While you can't delete someone else's photograph (try asking nicely), it's easy to remove a tag of yourself from any picture, which will remove it from Facebook's ‘View Photos of Me' pages. To do so, just find the offending picture and click remove tag next to your name in the caption. Once the tag is removed, you won't be able to be retagged on that particular photo.

You're Not an Advertisement

The disaster: Bruno was horrified to discover that his name was attached to an ad that was spammed to his friends without his permission. What gives?

So-called social ads are one of Facebook's more annoying features. Choosing 'No one' next to 'Appearance in Social Ads' can put a halt to this kind of social-network spamming.
The solution: "Social ads" are Facebook's term for a practice that puts your name on an ad for a product and then forwards it to your friends, without your explicit permission. As you've nothing but a headache to gain by al­­lowing this, turn it off. Go to the Facebook Privacy Page and click News Feed and Wall, and then select the Social Ads tab. Change the selection to No one.

Spam Central

The disaster: Kris woke up one morning to discover that her Facebook friends had been spammed with a message, "Check out mygener.at." She didn't send the message, and is reasonably worried that her account was hacked.

Indeed, Facebook is becoming a popular target for scammers, phishers, and spammers. The method typically used in­­volves a phishing site (often with ‘.at' in the URL) that looks just like Facebook and thereby tricks you into giving up your password and user name. The site then takes control of your account and begins spamming your contacts with the phishing site's URL in the hopes of obtaining even more log-ins.

The solution: Conventional security software won't help much with attacks like this--though antiphishing add-ons can help to some extent--so using common sense is our best advice. Keep your password private, and make sure the site you're visiting really is Facebook and not a malicious knock-off.

Get a Vanity Facebook URL

You wouldn't host your personal Web site on a Tripod account with a randomly generated URL. So why should you settle for a Facebook page whose URL is indicated by nothing but a numerical ID?

Memorable Web Ad­­dress (apps.facebook.com/webaddress/) gives you a vanity URL that redirects to your Facebook profile (or any page or group); for example, ‘http://profile.to/null' instead of ‘http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=718386140'. If you would like to put your Facebook link on your business card or e-mail signature, this is a convenient way to de-uglify things considerably. (Of course, you can also use your favorite URL-shortening service to do a similar job, too.)

Set Facebook's E-Mail Permissions

Under the Notifications tab, click 'Off' to change unwanted permissions.
Facebook treats what it slaps up on your Wall and what it e-mails you about separately, so you'll have to visit a different section to change what the network sends you via e-mail. You'll find these settings by clicking Settings (top-right corner) then the Notifications tab. Get ready to click, again and again: The page has more than 50 different e-mail settings for the main Facebook application alone, plus a setting for each of your add-on applications. Turn as many to ‘Off' as you care to.

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