Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban has been a bit obsessed with Facebook ever since he realized that the company was charging to make sure that fans of his basketball team would see the team’s Facebook posts. It’s a realization that has irked many as the world’s largest social network rolled out its Promoted Posts to people.
The fact is that the average Facebook user has over 120 friends and likes another 100 groups or pages.
This means the news feed generally moves very quickly pushing down updates almost immediately. In an effort to improve engagement, Facebook has developed Edgerank which pushes the updates your most likely to engage with to the top of your feed. It also pushes Promoted Posts to the top, to monetize the tremendous amount of time about a billion people around the world spend on the site. If you don’t interact with a friend or a page, you’ll eventually stop seeing their posts in your feed.
Facebook isn’t like email. You can’t expect every friend to see every post. Depending on how many friends you have and how active they are, they are probably much more likely to see your status update than a tweet—which fly, by usually only seen by a tiny fraction of your followers.
Cuban’s main complaint is that Facebook doesn’t understand what its business is. He says the site is a “time waster” like television. For that reason, he thinks users would be better are determining what they’d like to engage with than Facebook is—if the site would only make it easier to “unlike” things and sort through the feed.
Cuban is right about what the site’s value is—a way to pass time enjoyably. But it does offer a more authentic, unique, interactive experience than TV in that it makes your friends and family your entertainment. If relationships are easily made and broken the site becomes a little less like life. It’s that relationship to reality that gives Facebook its advantage over old media. Still the accumulation of likes and relationships on the site creates your experience but it also makes it messier and less enjoyable if you aren’t getting to the good stuff fast.
In a recent survey we found that about 6 out of 10 Facebook users think the site as good or better than it has been. That left 4 out of 10 who think it’s worse.
So does Marc Cuban have a point? Could you do a better job managing your feed than Facebook?
The reason the site has taken it upon its self to manage our feeds is because it knows that most people won’t take the time to do so. They’ll just stop using when it gets boring.
But if you’re reading this, you care more than the average user. So here are a few suggestions to improve your Facebook experience.
1. Unlike, unlike, unlike.
If you’re on Facebook and see something that annoys you—like spam or a not safe for work posting, go ahead and unlike the person or page. It takes a second, you have to go to profile, click on the wheel thing and select “Unfriend” or “Unlike”. You can always reconnect later. But unless you get in the practice or trimming your feed, you’re never going to improve your experience.
2. Switch your feed view from “Top Stories” to “Most Recent”.
This won’t guarantee that you’ll see all the posts from all your friends in linear order. Facebook’s algorithm seems to make that impossible. But it will prevent Facebook from controlling your feed entirely.
3. Use “Close Friends”.
On the left-hand column of your Facebook feed, you’ll see a Friends category. You may have to click on “More” to get to it. Click on “Close Friends” and Facebook will give you suggestions on who to add to this list. Only add the people you’re most interested in following. This won’t improve your feed, but Facebook will give you a notification when one of your favorite friends post. With this feature, you don’t need to worry about missing the posts from the people you care about most.
Today is Safer Internet Day – a day to talk about what kind of place the Internet is becoming for kids, and what people can do to make it a safe place for kids and teens to enjoy. We talk a lot about various online threats on this blog. After all, we’re a cyber security company, and it’s our job to secure devices and networks to keep people protected from more than just malware. But protecting kids and protecting adults are different ballparks. Kids have different needs, and as F-Secure Researcher Mikael Albrecht has pointed out, this isn’t always recognized by software developers or device manufacturers. So how does this actually impact kids? Well, it means parents can’t count on the devices and services kids use to be completely age appropriate. Or completely safe. Social media is a perfect example. Micke has written in the past that social media is basically designed for adults, making any sort of child protection features more of an afterthought than a focus. Things like age restrictions are easy for kids to work around. So it’s not difficult for kids to hop on Facebook or Twitter and start social networking, just like their parents or older siblings. But these services aren't designed for kids to connect with adults. So where does that leave parents? Parental controls are great tools that parents can use to monitor, and to a certain extent, limit what kids can do online. But they’re not perfect. Particularly considering the popularity of mobile devices amongst kids. Regulating content on desktop browsers and mobile apps are two different things, and while there are a lot of benefits to using mobile apps instead of web browsers, it does make using special software to regulate content much more difficult. The answer to challenges like these is the less technical approach – talking to kids. There’s some great tips for parents on F-Secure’s Digital Parenting web page, with talking points, guidelines, and potential risks that parents should learn more about. That might seem like a bit of a challenge to parents. F-Secure’s Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen has pointed out that today’s kids have never experienced a world without the Internet. It’s as common as electricity for them. But the nice thing about this approach is that parents can do this just by spending time with kids and learning about the things they like to do online. So if you don’t know what your kids are up to this Safer Internet Day, why not enjoy the day with your kids (or niece/nephew, or even a kid you might be babysitting) by talking over what they like to do online, and how they can enjoy doing it safely.
The European Union is preparing a new data protection package. It is making headlines because there are plans to raise the age limit for digital consent from 13 to 16 years. This has sometimes been describes as the age limit for joining social media. To be precise, member states could choose their age limit within this range. Younger kids would need parental consent for creating an account in social media and similar networks. We can probably agree that minors’ use of the internet can be problematic. But is an age limit really the right way to go? It’s easy to think of potential problems when children and teenagers start using social media. The platforms are powerful communication tools, for good and bad. Cyberbullying. Grooming. Inappropriate content. Unwanted marketing. Getting addicted. Stealing time and attention from homework or other hobbies. And perhaps most important. Social media often becomes a sphere of freedom, a world totally insulated from the parents and their silly rules. In social media you can choose your contacts. There’s no function that enables parents to check what the kids are doing, unless they accept their parents as friends. And the parents are often on totally different services. Facebook is quickly becoming the boring place where mom and granny hangs out. Youngsters tend to be on Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Periscope or whatnot instead. But is restricting their access to social media the right thing to do? What do we achieve by requiring parental consent before they sign up? This would mean that parents, in theory, have a chance to prevent their children from being on social media. And that’s good, right? Well, this is a flawed logic in several ways. First, it’s easy to lie about your age. Social media in generic has very poor authentication mechanisms for people signing up. They are not verifying your true identity, and can’t verify your age either. Kids learn very quickly that signing up just requires some simple math. Subtract 16, or whatever, from the current year when asked for year of birth. The other problem is that parental consent requirements don’t give parents a real choice. Electronic communication is becoming a cornerstone in our way to interact with other people. It can’t be stressed enough how important it is for our children to learn the rules and skills of this new world. Preventing kids from participating in the community where all their friends are could isolate them, and potentially cause more harm than the dark side of social media. What we need isn’t age limits and parental consent. It’s better control of the content our children are dealing with and tools for parents to follow what they are doing. Social media is currently designed for adults and everyone have tools to protect their privacy. But the same tools become a problem when children join, as they also prevent parents from keeping an eye on their offspring. Parental consent becomes significant when the social media platforms start to recognize parent-child relationships. New accounts for children under a specified age could mandatorily be linked to an adult’s account. The adult would have some level of visibility into what the child is doing, but maybe not full visibility. Metadata, like whom the child is communicating with, would be a good start. Remember that children deserve s certain level of privacy too. Parents could of course still neglect their responsibilities, but they would at least have a tool if they want to keep an eye on how their kids are doing online. And then we still have the problem with the lack of age verification. All this is naturally in vain if the kids can sign up as adults. On top of that, children’s social media preferences are very volatile. They do not stay loyally on one service all the time. Having proper parent-child relationships in one service is not enough, it need to be the norm on all services. So we are still very far from a social media world that really takes parents’ and children’s needs into account. Just demanding parental consent when kids are signing up does not really do much good. It’s of course nice to see EU take some baby steps towards a safer net for our children. But this is unfortunately an area where baby steps isn’t enough. We need a couple of giant leaps as soon as possible. Safe surfing, Micke Image by skyseeker
We are all sad about what’s happened in Paris last Friday. It’s said that the terrorist attacks have changed the world. That is no doubt true, and one aspect of that is how social media becomes more important in situations like this. Facebook has deployed two functions that help people deal with this kind of crisis. The Safety Check feature collects info about people in the area of a disaster, and if they are safe or not. This feature was initially created for natural disasters. Facebook received criticism for using it in Paris but not for the Beirut bombings a day earlier. It turned out that their explanation is quite good. Beirut made them think if the feature should be used for terror attacks as well, and they were ready to change the policy when Paris happened. The other feature lets you use a temporary profile picture with some appropriate overlay, the tricolor in this case. This is a nice and easy way to show sympathy. And it became popular very quickly, at least among my friends. The downside is however that it seemed so popular that those without a tricolor were sticking out. Some people started asking them why they aren’t supporting the victims in Paris? The whole thing has lost part of its meaning when it goes that far. We can’t know anymore who genuinely supports France and who changed the picture because of the social pressure. I changed my picture too. And it was interesting to see how the feature was implemented. The Facebook app for iOS 9 launched a wizard that let me make a picture with the tricolor overlay. Either by snapping a new selfie or using one of my previous profile pictures. I guess the latter is what most people want to do. But Facebook’s wizard requires permissions to use the camera and refuses to start until the user has given that permission. Even if you just want to modify an existing picture. Even more spooky. The wizard also asked for permission to use the microphone when I first run it. That is, needless to say, totally unnecessary when creating a profile picture. And Facebook has been accused of misusing audio data. It’s doubtful if they really do, but the only sure thing is that they don’t if you deny Facebook microphone access. But that was probably a temporary glitch, I was not able to reproduce the mic request when resetting everything and running the wizard again. Your new profile picture may be temporary, but any rights you grant the Facebook app are permanent. I’m not saying that this is a sinister plot to get more data about you, it may be just sloppy programming. But it is anyway an excellent reminder about how important the app permissions are. We should learn to become more critical when granting, or denying, rights like this. This is the case for any app, but especially Facebook as its whole business model is based on scooping up data about us users. Time for an app permission check. On your iOS device, go to Settings and Privacy. Here you can see the categories of info that an app can request. Go through them and think critically about if a certain app really needs its permissions to provide value to you. Check Facebook's camera and microphone permissions if you have used the temporary profile picture feature. And one last thing. Make it a habit to check the privacy settings now and then. [caption id="attachment_8637" align="aligncenter" width="169"] This is how far you get unless you agree to grant Facebook camera access.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_8638" align="aligncenter" width="169"] The Settings, Privacy page. Under each category you find the apps that have requested access, and can select if the request is granted or denied.[/caption] Safe surfing, Micke PS. The temporary profile picture function is BTW simpler in Facebook's web interface. You just see your current profile picture with the overlay. You can pan and zoom before saving. I like that approach much more. Photo by Markus Nikander and iPhone screen captures