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Facebook Newbie? Read This First

[Editor's Note: I am happy to introduce guest author R. Michelle Green, the Principal for her company, Client Solutions. I met Michelle in T'ai Chi Ch'uan class. She is a combination geek girl, personal organizer, and career coach. She has studied what makes some individuals embrace or avoid information technology. (She’s definitely one of the former.) Michelle helps others improve their use of technology in their personal or professional life. Here's her take on Facebook.com including some tips even experienced Facebook users may not know.]

By R. Michelle Green

Two of my friends just joined Facebook. Just.

If you are in their company, here are some things you should know.

When people first friend you, you think "Wow, he thought of me! Sure, I'll friend that guy from third grade!" Then a month later you're like, "Why did I do that? I have nothing to say to him." What if it’s a one-night stand from college? The first boss you ever had? It's flattering at first, maybe even interesting for a month or two. Then you realize that one of them is flooding your news feed with their obsession with lolcats. So think before you click.

If you have authority over others who friend you, you may want to decide in advance on a friending policy. For example, I know a college administrator who only friends students after they have graduated. Thinking it through in advance can save some embarrassment later.

Some of your friends may friend your friends just because s/he’s your friend (whoa – that made me dizzy). Unless I am sure it’s someone I know, I don’t friend profiles without a picture. Even so, one friend had to put a warning on her page to beware of an impostor. The impostor's Facebook page used my friend's pictures and particulars. Facebook's Help Center was unresponsive. The impostor is no longer visible but we never knew for sure if Facebook took down their account, or if the impostor simply tired of the game.

If you like, you can always de-friend someone. They will not receive a notification from Facebook, but if they have just two friends, they will notice that you are no longer on their friends list. (That may matter to you.) If they have 100 friends, they'll never notice.

Think about where and how you reply to people. If you write it on their Facebook wall, or comment to a status post, people you may never meet may read it as a notification or part of their news feed (never meet that is, until they become your boss or something). About 50% of the time, I choose to reply with specific messages, and rarely use the write-on-the-wall feature.

Another caution: sending someone a message lets them look at your profile for a little while, even if they are not your friend. So, if someone you don't know or can't verify somehow contacts you, ignoring the message is your best bet. Here's a scary article showing you the lengths some will go to hack your Facebook account.

Be careful of stuff sent to you, even by people you respect (their Facebook account may have been hacked). The koobface virus, the crush me virus, and marketing things like the free $500 Whole Foods card scam come to mind. A tech savvy friend fell for the Whole Foods card scam, and the program sent info requests pushing the same deal to all his friends under his name.

If someone can hack (or guess) your password just from looking at your profile (see note about sending messages, above), bad guys may hijack your Facebook account, block key people (e.g., spouse, kids), and then send friends desperate messages without your knowledge (“help I’ve been mugged overseas, send money!”). Things like this have led me to construct my longest online password for use on Facebook; one I don’t use anywhere else.

Review your privacy settings. The "Friends of Friends" setting sounds alright, but in practice is problematic. Two of my friends are performers – they have over 250 friends each, some of whom are also performers. You do the math.

You can set varying privacy limits by building lists of friends. For example, set up an immediate family list and give them special access. I’m up to 8 lists at this point. Check periodically to see if your profile looks the way you want it to by others within each list (there's a mechanism for that on your Facebook Settings page).

There are a lot of cool games and time wasters on Facebook. I read them, but I won’t participate. I may be too conservative -- I have never played Scrabulous for example (huge hit, Scrabble knock off). I won't give Facebook access to my other e-mail address books (even if I used them, I wouldn't). I won't even sign up for people to send me birthday wishes. These applications permit developers to look at your profile information and often that of your friends. (Reading Facebook's Terms of Use and Privacy can be very scary.) I don’t give marketers data for free if I can help it. The ACLU has created a great app that lets you see what your profile looks like to a Facebook developer.

To learn more, read these online articles:

So that's as armed as I think I can get you. Go forth and friend.

© 2010. R. Michelle Green. Reprinted with permission.


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Mike Bohn

For FB newbies and oldies.

R. Michelle Green

so true Mike!

Charles Jeter

Sent a letter to George thanking him for this article you wrote. I appreciate your thoroughness as well as the tone you took for the content.

charles at soec

R. Michelle Green

Thanks for checking this out Charles -- I am a huge fan of technology, but I think people need to be knowledgeable users, not blind adopters. To me, this is the true meaning of digital fluency: knowing how, when and when not to use these tools... Michelle

Outsourcing Philippines

Great article. It serves as guide for newbies to be extra careful if they joined FB.

Account Deleted

About Newbie on Facebook, Be careful of stuff sent to you, even by people you respect (their Facebook account may have been hacked). This post is pretty awesome....For more details you can visit my website softwaredevelopmentoutsourcing(dot)org and services-outsourcing(dot)org

R. Michelle Green

eversundavao, thanks for the compliment! I worry that facebook changes so fast that advice on using it can't keep up. I hope the advice here is general enough that people can keep using the principles at the post's heart...

R. Michelle Green

R. Michelle Green

Thanks for the kind words, Outsourcing Phillipines; look forward to seeing more of your comments...

R. Michelle Green

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