Avoid these common Facebook mistakes

Manage your timeline and news feed; delete or edit your updates, comments, and messages; and control how you share with Facebook friends and the public.

CNET

Facebook has so many features it can be tough to keep them straight. Even experienced social networkers can sometimes get a post, share, or other action not altogether right.

When one of your Facebook activities doesn't come out as you expected, use one of the service's many management and editing tools to effect repairs on errant status updates, messages, and other shares.

Timeline tune-ups
It isn't unusual to see an item on your Facebook timeline and wonder, "How did that get there?" Your next thought may be, "How do I get it out of there?"

Even more common is discovering a typo or other error after you press the Return key or click Post. Instead of the inevitable "What I really meant was" follow-up post, simply fix or dump the offending update or comment.

To correct or remove an item from your timeline or news feed, hover over it and click the down arrow that appears in the top right corner. If you posted the item, you're given the option to edit or delete it. Depending on the item, other options include Change Date, Add Location, Highlight, Reposition Photo, Hide from Timeline, and Report/Remove Tag.

Facebook timeline options
Hide or edit an item on your Facebook timeline by choosing the down arrow in the top-right corner and selecting an option from the dropdown menu. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

When you change an item's date, it moves to that date on your timeline. Friends who are tagged in the item can change its date as well.

You can also manage your timeline by clicking Activity Log at the top of your Timeline or About pages. Two dropdown menus in the top right corner of the log entries for your posts let you change the audience for the item and edit it. The edit options include highlighting, hiding/showing, or deleting the post. Other options are adding or changing the location, changing the date, and reporting/marking as spam.

Facebook Activity Log edit settings
Edit your Facebook timeline via the Activity Log's drop-down menus for changing the item's audience and settings (the latter menu is shown here). Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Note that posts you've hidden from your timeline may appear on your news feed or elsewhere, depending on how the items have been shared.

To prevent your friends from posting on your Facebook timeline, select the upper right corner of any page and choose Account Settings. Click Timeline and Tagging in the left pane, choose Edit to the right of Who can post on your Timeline? and click Only Me.

The Facebook Help Center describes other tools and settings that help you keep your timeline private.

Message management
Facebook gives you four very different ways to communicate:

  • A status update that's viewed by the audience you select
  • A post you write on a friend's timeline that's viewed by the audience your friend has selected
  • A comment on an item in your news feed that's viewed by the item's audience
  • A private message that's viewed only by the people you choose

There's a good chance one of your Facebook friends has used your timeline or a comment on an item you posted to send you a private message. While it's possible the person meant to share the message with everyone in the item's audience, in many cases the friend may not have understood that the message would be shared.

The easiest way to send a message to a friend or other Facebook user is to click the message icon to the right of the search box at the top of any Facebook page. The names of your most recent Facebook correspondents appear.

Click Send a New Message and enter the recipient's name. Friends whose names match the letters you type are then shown.

When you click See All at the bottom of the list of open messages, you open your Messages page, which can also be reached by clicking Messages in the left pane of your news feed.

On the Messages page, choose a friend in the left pane and start typing. Or choose New Message at the top of the window and type a name or e-mail address in the To field. Friends and other Facebook users will again appear below as you type. So do past group conversations corresponding to the name you enter.

Click the Actions button to the right of New Message to open a menu with options for deleting the selected message, and deleting or muting the conversation. Other options let you open, move, or archive the message, or report it as spam or abuse.

Facebook message-management settings
Facebook's message-management options include deleting, moving, or archiving the selected message or conversation. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

To open the chat sidebar on the desktop version of Facebook, click the chat button in the bottom-right corner of the window. Select a friend in the sidebar and start typing.

Click the gear icon at the bottom of the chat pane to open a menu with four options: Chat Sounds, Advanced Settings, Close All Chat Tabs, and Turn Off Chat.

The advanced settings let you exclude people from your chat list, limit chat to the friends you select, or turn off chat.

Facebook advanced messaging settings.
Block chat for some people, all but the people you choose, or everyone via Facebook's advanced messaging settings. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

To close the chat pane, click the hide-sidebar button to the right of the gear icon.

The Facebook Help Center's Sending a Message page explains that if the message recipient has chat active, the message is delivered as a chat. If chat isn't active, the message is sent to the person's message inbox and they receive a notification.

When you send a message to someone you haven't already connected with, the message may be sent to the recipient's Other folder. Facebook may allow you to pay to have the message delivered to the person's inbox. The cost of the service appears below the message, according to Facebook. (Note that I haven't tested or used this feature.)

As part of its anti-spam efforts, Facebook automatically filters messages and sends some to your Other folder. To view the filtered items, click Messages in the left pane of your news feed and choose Other in the top-left corner of the window.

To move a message to your inbox, either reply to the message or open it and choose Move to Inbox on the Actions drop-down menu. To change your inbox filter preferences, click Edit Preferences under Other in the left pane and select either Basic Filtering or Strict Filtering. The Facebook Help Center's Messaging Settings & Security page explains both types of filtering.

Sharing options
When you update your status on Facebook, the icons below the text box let you tag someone, change the date, add a location, upload a file, or choose an activity. You can change the default audience for the post by selecting the audience button in the bottom right of the status box and choosing an option from the dropdown menu: Public, Friends, Only Me, Close Friends, or Family.

To customize the audience for the post, click Custom to view a dropdown menu that lets you choose Friends of Friends, or Specific People, or Lists. Enter the names (or lists of people) you want to add. You can also exclude specific people or lists from the post's audience.

Facebook custom-audience options
Put a finer point on the post audience by choosing Custom on the audience-selector menu and entering the names or lists you want to include or exclude. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

The three options for sharing photos are Upload Photos/Videos, Add Synced Photos, and Create Photo Album. An upcoming post will explain your options for uploading, sharing, and editing photos on Facebook.

To let the Facebook world know where you are, choose the Place icon and enter a location, or choose one from the list of recent locations that appears under the text box.

You can also share life events in five categories: Work & Education, Life & Relationships, Home & Living, Health & Wellness, and Travel & Experiences. Each of these categories has several subcategories.

My personal favorite life-event subcategory is Changed Beliefs under Travel & Experiences. Now I can tell the world about my conversion to Pastafarianism.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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