Using Facebook Better

by Alan Zisman (c) 2018
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Last updated: 2023-08-01


Facebook has been around since 2004 - it started off slowly, only available to students at a few elite US universities. It expanded its access to all Ivy League students, then to all (US) college and university students and finally to the general public worldwide. It now has over two billion users and is increasingly popular with seniors. An April 2016 New York Times article suggested that Facebook was popular with both seniors and the general public as a way "to bond with old friends and develop relationships with like-minded people. They also like to keep tabs on their loved ones." As well, seniors appreciated it as a way to see photos of granchildren. Perhaps as a result: Grandparents Love Facebook, Teens Not So Much

Facebook is a social network - a network because it allows you, using your computer or mobile device to connect - in real time - with other people on their computers or mobile devices via the Internet. because to allows to interact with other people - posting 'What's on your mind?' text, links, photos and videos and commenting on post by your friends or by groups or events that you've 'liked'.

More: The Different Types of Facebook Users – Which One Are You?

Also see: How Facebook Makes Money Off You: The Economics of Social Networks

Some critiques: WHO WILL TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR FACEBOOK? and (long read): Does Even Mark Zuckerberg Know What Facebook Is? and 6 Ways We Can Begin to Rein in Facebook's Immense Power Over Media and Our Society. The CBC discusses: Is Facebook bad for democracy? and The case against Facebook

Sign upTo get started with Facebook, you have to:
  • set up an account - entering a real name, email address or phone number, a password, birthdate and gender. Don't forget your password - you'll need it from time to time. You'll get an email and be asked to click a box to confirm you really asked to set up a new Facebook account - then Facebook will want to peek in your email Address Book or Contact List to see if anyone listed there has a Facebook account, to help you 'find friends'. You can let it, or ignore this. There are a few more option steps, letting you look at the privacy settings and add a photo - you can do those things latter.

  • notice that while you're logged onto Facebook, there's not much happening! Until you connect with 'friends', 'join' groups or 'like' pages there won't be much to see.

  • click on your name (top-middle) to add some information about yourself - maybe a photo, where you live, where you were born, where you went to high school or university, job, relationship. Don't add any information you're uncomfortable sharing - but note that you can limit information to 'friends'

  • enter people or group names in the box on the top left to see if Facebook recognizes them. Note that there may be more than one person with the same name - click to see their page. If you think they're someone you know, send them a 'friend request' - if they agree, you'll be Facebook 'friends' and will see (some of) what each other posts on Facebook.

If you've sent 'friend requests' it may take a while before these people approve your request - once that happens you'll start to see some of what they post onto Facebook in your 'newsfeed' - that's where you go when you click the Home link near the top of the page.

Note: Fall, 2020, Facebook redesigned its user interface - this tutorial was written (and illustrated) based on the 'old' layout - so what you see will be different. If you're a Facebook user and don't like the new interface, you can get the old one back following the instructions in: How to Get the Old Facebook Layout Back... It's Easy!

Let's look at the blue bar along the top of the Facebook page - from left to right:

Blue bar w. labels
Let's look below the blue bar:

It's a pretty crowded screen full of lists, content, options and fiddly bits to click on. (Right-clicking does nothing).Facebook main window

The grey area on the left is a set of lists, starting with your name and an option to edit your profile. Below that is a list of Favorites - if you start visiting groups and pages regularly, they will start being listed here. Note the teeny triangle beside the name News Feed - we'll come back to that triangle soon.

Below that is a list of 'apps' - games that play within Facebook, for instance. Some people find these games and apps addictive.

Further down - groups and then pages that you've joined and a chance to create your own - which may proved useful. Below that (and not visible in the image) is a list of events you've expressed interest in - and again, the chance to create your own.

What's the difference between a group and a page I hear you silently asking. There's some overlap, but generally a page is the official representation of an organization and you may have only limited ability to post on it. A group is more informal - some require that users have to be approved to join, others are wide open - but once you join a group, you can start your own conversations with members of the group there. You 'like' a page but you 'join' a group. (And you 'friend' or 'follow' an individual).

More: Facebook Page vs. Group: Which is Right for Your Organization? and Facebook Pages vs Facebook Groups

The center section is your news feed - at the top is an area where you can enter 'what's on your mind' along with an individual photo or video or an album of photos/videos. Note on the bottom right of that box - two buttons - the blue one in the corner labelled Post to send your post; beside it is another important one we often overlook - who can see your post. Currently, it reads Friends but it might also read Public. If you create lists, sorting your friends into groups, they will appear as More options.

Web link in a FB postIf you want to share a web page - perhaps a news article that you read and found interesting, select and copy the address from the address bar in your web browser, then paste that address into a Facebook post - (your probably want to type some text about it first) - Facebook will automatically add the title and a graphic from that web page.

Below the box to enter 'what's on your mind' you start seeing your actual news feed - a selection of posts by your Facebook friends, and the pages, groups, and events that you've connected to - with some advertising content based on what Facebook thinks your interests might be. Note the phrase "a selection".

The Big Secret #1

People think that if they post something on Facebook all their friends will get to see it in their news feeds. Not true! On average, about 20-30% of your Facebook friends will see anything you post - and you will only see a fraction of what they post. Facebook uses automated 'computer algorithms' to decide who gets to see what in the news feed default, labelled Top Stories. The back story is that as people got more friends and were using Facebook more, their news feeds were getting more and more difficult to wade through. To help with this problem, Facebook started sending out so-called Top Stories by default, showing posted items to only some of the people who might expect to receive them.

Keep that in mind - if you post, say, a cute photo of your grandchild, it probably won't appear on the news feed of all the family members that you think should see it. If you want to make sure it reaches a particular set of people, you might want to send it as a Facebook Message to those people.

A side-effect - good for Facebook - is that groups, pages, events and even individuals are given the option to promote their posts - essentially pay Facebook to put their posts on more people's news feeds than would normally be the case. The cost is not particularly high - it might cost $7-10 to promote a post about a music event to people in Vancouver - but all those little bits of money add up - especially if you want to promote the post multiple times.

The Big Secret #2

When you set up an account on Facebook, you might think you are Facebook's customer. You're not - Facebook makes money from you, but only indirectly. They sell access to your news feed as 'sponsored content' - i.e. ads. And they sell your demographic information and information about your interests and what you've viewed to interested parties. An April 2016 New York Times article suggested than on average, each user earned about US$12 per quarter for Facebook. That's part of why Facebook is caught in the dilemma of wanting to share your personal information and wanting to respect your right to privacy. So they offer settings to help you control who has access to your information - but don't make these settings too obvious or easy to use! Also note: Do I Own My Photos and Posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram?

Like, Comment, ShareBack to the news feed - at the bottom of a post on your news feed, you'll see three options:

Scrolling down shows you a seemingly infinite lists of posts by your friends, groups, pages, and events - and ads. From time to time, you'll see a set of People You May Know who you might want to 'friend'. There may be 'reminders' of friends' birthdays - birthday wishes on Facebook are very popular.

The little v in the top-right cornerLook at the top-right corner of any of these posts - you'll see a little 'v'... click on it and you'll see some options relating to that post - different options for an ad, for instance, or a list of People You May Know. For this post, for instance, we have an option to Hide post: see fewer posts like this - particularly useful for ads for products you're not interested in. You can Unfollow Alan or the Vancouver Squeezebox Circle group where the post originated - again, these might be useful to stop seeing all ads from a particular advertiser.

You can Report post if you think it's especially nasty.

UnfriendUnfriend vs Unfollow - once you've friended someone, you may decide that you don't want to see their posts any longer. Perhaps you're getting constant game notifications from them or pet videos or photos of what they had for breakfast. For whatever reason, their Facebook posts are just too annoying to you. You can 'unfriend' them. Instead, you can choose to 'unfollow' them - you'll still be friends on Facebook but you won't see any of their posts. They won't receive any notification that you did this - and they will still see your posts in their news feed. (If you do want to unfriend someone, you can go to their page - you'll see that you're listed as Friends - clicking that button gives you the option to unfriend them.

(You can also unfollow them or send them a message on that page).

On the right-hand side of the Facebook window - you see another busy list that's often ignored - in fact, this whole column may be covered up if you're viewing Facebook in a smaller browser window.

There's a list of Trending topics - popular items right now. (There's been some discussion over whether Facebook's list is politically biased). Yet again a list of 'People You May Know'. If you have a lot of friends, you may see lists of things friends have done recently on Facebook that aren't in your news feed or the names of friends who are using Facebook right this moment. You may see some ads - interestingly, if I look at something on or check out a hotel on I tend to find both of those appearing as ads on the right side of my Facebook window - an example of how the information about my online browsing travels between services in order to target my advertising.

Choose Most RecentThe big secret #3 - It used to be the case that beside the phrase News Feed in the left-hand column there was another one of those little 'v's...Clicking it gave you two choices - Top Stories or Most Recent. The default is Top Stories - where you see only those items from your friends, groups, pages, and events that Facebook decides to post on your news feed. If you pick Most Recent, you get everything from all those sources.

You can no longer do that - Facebook no longer shows the News Feed in the left-hand column, and there's no obvious way to choose between Top Stories or Most Recent. But there IS a way to get the Most Recent newsfeed - freeing you from Facebook's 'algorithms' choosing what they think you should see. To do this, in your browser's address bar, type in (or copy and paste):

If you like what you get, make it a Bookmark or Favorite so you can go right to it in the future, instead of just going to (where you'll get the default, algorithm-selected Top Stories).

But be warned - it can be a mixed blessing. Everything means everything. You get all the items that everyone and every group (etc) that you're following posts on their respective news feeds. And you see every time they like an item that they've viewed. And you see every time they add a friend. The time that you'll spend plowing through your news feed will increase - at least double.

Youre viewing most recentFacebook will post a notification: 'Viewing most recent stories' at the top of your news feed, with an option to quickly return to Top Stories. And Facebook will sometimes remember that you've chosen Most Recent when you log back in or click the Home button in the blue bar at the top - and some times it won't - and will bump you back to Top Stories without saying anything about it. (There's no equivalent message saying 'viewing top stories'. When that happens, you can pick Most Recent again.

Note that the Most Recent list is presumably sorted in chronological order from just now, with items getting older and older. But it might appear jumbled when you look at when items were posted (near the top of each news feed item) - that's because a friend of yours may have liked an item 20 minutes ago even though the item was orginally posted two days ago. It will appear near the top of your news feed, based on that 20 minute-old like.

2022 update: Facebook has hidden the option to switch between Top Stories and Most Recent. If you notice that your newsfeed lists stories that are not in chronological order, you're viewing Top Stories. You can still switch to Most Recent - to do that, instead of just going to, in your browser's address bar, type: (or click on this link - and then add it as a bookmark to your browser).

More: 7 Advanced News Feed Tweaks For Facebook Users

Privacy checkupPrivacy checkup

The little lock icon near the right-hand end of the blue bar opens a menu labelled Privacy Checkup. It provides quick answers to frequently asked questions about privacy - with links to the appropriate settings pages as needed. Clicking on the little 'v's beside each of the questions opens up that section to offer either further questions or a quick answer - with the option to make a change.

For instance, for our sample new Facebook user, clicking on Who can contact me? offers the answer Everyone [v] - note again the little 'v' beside the answer - clicking on that gives options: Everyone/Friends of friends. You can pick which you prefer.

Clicking on How do I stop someone form bothering me? lets you add the name or email of someone who you'd like to block - this unfriends them and prevents them from messaging you or seeing anything you post.

A link at the bottom takes you to Privacy Settings and Tools or to a Privacy Basics webpage with more information.

See: Here's How to Share as Little Data as Possible Without Deleting Facebook and 9 easy things you can do to beef up your privacy on Facebook and The Ultimate Facebook Privacy and Security Checklist (2022)

New (2022): How to Stop Facebook Tracking With the Off-Facebook Activity Tool  - easily followed instructions

Settings listSettings

As we said up above, the little triangle at the far-right end of the blue bar drops down a menu. Use this to log out of Facebook at the end of your session - at least on shared or public computers. Another item on that menu takes you to Facebook's Settings for your account. The settings are very detailed - and the options and their organization change from time to time without warning - here's an introduction based on the settings in October 2016 - links are provided for more detailed information.

On the left, there's a list of settings categories - click on an item in the list to see the variety of settings for that category. Besides each item listed in the main window (on the right - not illustrated) you'll see a little pencil icon and the word Edit. Click that if you want to make changes to that item. In some cases, you'll have a single thing to edit, but in other cases, clicking edit will open up a list of multiple items, allowing you to make changes to each of them.

The organization generally is straightforward - you may not need to change anything in the General section other than perhaps setting the default temperature to Celsius. (Why nothing for other imperial vs metric measurements?)

The Security section may be more valuable - for instance, you may want to get Login alerts if anyone tries to log into your Facebook account from a new device or browser. If so, you enter an email address or mobile phone # where an alert will be sent. The next item Login approvals sends you mobile phone a 6-digit code when there's a new login - the person trying to log in will need to enter that code before they can actually get to your Facebook page - blocking most hack attempts. (This is a bit inconvenient if the person logging in is actually you, using a friend's computer or a new device for the first time - but it may be worth the hassle!)

The Where You're Logged In lists devices and locations where you logged-in in the past - it's worth reviewing this to see if you've been hacked. (What! I've never even been to Russia!) If you see anything that looks suspicious, you can click Close to prevent it from logging in again - though this may be a case of shutting the barn door after the horse has escaped.

In the Security section you can also deactivate your account to close it down and name a Legacy Contact - someone who could access your account if you die or become incapacitated. You can also delete your account. When you 'deactivate'your account, it's no longer visible, but you can log back in and reactivate it. When you 'delete' it, it's deactivated for 14 days - giving you a chance to change your mind., then gone for good. See: How Facebook handles account deletions

More: How to tell if your Facebook has been hacked (and what to do) and  How to memorialize someone's Facebook account and
The Definitive Guide on How to Delete Your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & Snapchat Accounts and How to check if someone else is accessing your Facebook account

The Privacy section expands on the questions of the Privacy Checklist. Note that the defaults are that anyone can contact you and that your posts are public - viewable across the Internet. More: 4 Vital Facebook Privacy Settings You Should Check Right Now and Facebook Privacy: 25 Things The Social Network Knows About You

(April 2018: How to Prevent Facebook From Sharing Your Personal Data)

The Blocking section lets you block people from (separately) from posting to your timeline and sending you messages. As well, you can block App invites - useful if you're getting barraged by invitations to play the games that some of your friends are playing - or block Event invites or specific Apps or Events.

Facebook sends out lots of Notifications both within Facebook but also by email - you may find that you get unneeded email messages when your friends post things. If you find you're getting annoying notifications, this is where to turn them off!

The Ads section lets you choose whether or not to 'see ads based on my use of websites and apps' - this is a bit of a two-edged sword. With it on, I get ads for Amazon items or Expedia hotels or cities I've viewed. With it off, I get random ads. Which is a better choice? If you click to edit the option Ads based on my preferences you get a long list of interests and categories - you can choose which categories you're prepared to see ads for - and which you really aren't interested in. Worth a quick browse!

The Video item is worth looking at - in particular, auto-playing videos can be problematic, especially if you're connecting to Facebook on a mobile device with limited connectivity. Turn off auto-play - you can always click to play a video in a news feed post if you actually want to see it.

Also see: Facebook privacy tips: How to share without oversharing


Using Facebook messaging has several advantages over simply posting on your news feed - or going to a friend's page and posting there. If you post on your news feed, only some of your friends will see your post on their news feed - messaging ensures they'll get notification of the message (if they're on your friends list). If you post on their page, presumably they'll have a chance to see it - but so will many of the other people who are their friends. Sending them a message instead ensures that it will be private.

New messageYou can send a message in a variety of ways. Among them:
Besides the main message list, Facebook sort of hides messages from people who are not on your friends list in two places. It's worth checking now and again to see if you have any messages in these locations:
The moral seems to be that Facebook messaging is not an effective way to communicate to anyone who's not already on your friend list - this makes it problematic if you're trying to locate a person who might be an old friend. If you try to message them to ask if they're the person you remember, they probably won't see the message! And you can't attach a message ot a friend request.

New - Facebook has changed what happens if you send/get a message from someone who's not on your friends list -

Photos & Facebook

You can add photos to Facebook posts in a number of ways:
You can save photos that other people have posted to Facebook with the following steps:

Many Facebook users are guilty of oversharing. There are two different kinds of oversharing; many people do both:
 Here's how you can make groups among your Facebook friends:
 To use your new list - when you're posting on your news feed:
More: How do I use lists to organize my friends? and How to Limit Who Can See Your Facebook Posts With a Restricted List

 You may still be posting photos of your breakfast - but at least you're limiting it to the people you think might want to see it. Maybe you have a friend list named 'breakfast buddies'!

One more thing - it's easy to share links to websites you've visited or posts that your Facebook 'friends' have posted. As a result, Facebook contains a huge-number of links to myths, rumours, and outright lies. Even photos can be misleading - ranging from real photos (and video clips) identified with the wrong information to photoshopped images that never existed in the 'real' world.

It's easy to do a little fact-checking - for instance maintains a list of popular rumours that are currently making the rounds, along with information to help you decide whether or not they're true. Maybe add it to your web browser's favourites or bookmarks and use it regularly!

In March 2017, Facebook started to alert users in Germany and the USA if they tried to post a link to an article that might be 'fake news' - hopefully this will roll out to users in other countries as well: Facebook starts warning U.S. users when they're sharing fake news

Mobile versions

Facebook has mobile apps for iPhone/iPad (iOS) and Android smartphones and tablets, as well as a special version for Windows 10 in the Microsoft store. They let you do pretty much everything you can do on a Mac or Windows PC going to in a web browser, but with an interface designed for a smaller screen and for touch interfaces.

Facebook has split its browser feature set into a pair of mobile apps - one for the main Facebook features, the second for Messenger - they work together, each one opening the other one when needed.

There are some issues with Facebook's mobile apps, however:
Some mobile users access Facebook in other ways on their devices - for instance, you may simply go to on your device's web browser, just as you would on a notebook or desktop computer - you can even add icons for that web page on your phone or tablet's Home screen. There are alternate Facebook apps that may be less problematic such as Friendly for Facebook (iOS: iPhone/iPad - free, with $3 ad-free 'Plus' version available) or the free Swipe for Facebook Android app. Also for Android users: Check this article to help you install the more efficient Facebook-Lite and Messenger-Lite versions. A bit of work but worthwhile!

Nevertheless, let's take a look at the mobile Facebook and Messenger apps - looking at the Android version. (The iPhone/iPad versions are similar):

To the right, you see the Android Facebook app - it's defaulted to Top Stories in my newsfeed, something it does every time it starts up. At the top, it's got a smaller version of the familiar blue bar, with a Search field at the left, a bubble that opens the Messenger app to send a message, and a Friends list on the right.

Below that is a white toolbar - the first icon (in blue because it's currently selected) shows the news feed. Grey icons show friend requests, starts a 'live broadcast', and shows my notifications. On the right is a 'hamburger menu' which will show a long list of options including my user profile, a list of favourite groups and pages, and then more complete lists of groups and pages I've subscribed to. Further down, there's the option to view Most Recent posts on my newsfeed, followed by Facebook Apps, then most of the same settings as on the standard version. At the very bottom of this long list of items is a Log Out option - important if someone else wanted to log into their Facebook account on your mobile device.

The second image is of the Android Facebook Messenger app - a confusing name because both it shares the 'Messenger' name with Google's Messenger app which is used on many Android phones for text messaging (SMS) - both apps sit beside one another in the alphabetical apps list - you need to know which icon opens which app. (The Facebook Messenger icon looks like the one on the Facebook app's blue bar). When you first install it, it wants to access your phone contacts - offering to 'text anyone on your phone'. I chose 'Not Now'.

Another annoyance - by default the Messenger app turns on a feature it calls 'chat heads'. This adds a bubble with the profile photo of people you've chatter with on your phone's Home screen. I turn it off in the app's preferences.
Mobile Facebook app Android Facebook Messenger app

The icons on the Messenger blue bar: Home - showing recent messages (and friend birthdays) - click on a message to continue the conversation. There's a big blue [+] button to start a new conversation to someone not on the list. The telephone receiver icon can be used to start a voice or video call to another Facebook friend or group of friends - over the Internet. The icon showing the torsos/heads of two people shows which of your friends already have the Messenger app and those who don't - and urges you to invite folks to get the app. The final icon (the white circle with a torso/head) shows my settings - user name, phone number (if entered), notifications & sounds, plus the option to turn Chat Heads off (yay!)

Frankly, I'm not a big fan of Facebook's mobile apps.

More: 21 Hidden Facebook Messenger Tricks You Need To Try Right Now and What Do The Different Facebook Messenger Circles Mean? (And More)

Facebook HoaxOther links: