I was at church early Sunday morning, helping to cook men's club breakfast, when one of my fellow members expressed the opinion that Facebook is evil.
He's one of those people who's never signed up for a Facebook account, has no interest in doing so, and considers the thing a gigantic waste of time.
Is Facebook evil?
Of course not. Facebook is a tool, one which can certainly be abused or misused. There are, no doubt, people for whom Facebook is a gigantic waste of time. There are Facebook apps and games that tend to suck you in and which create peer pressure to participate on an active basis. But those are Facebook apps, not Facebook itself, and it's still ultimately the user's responsbility to choose how to spend his or her time.
I've covered some of this material before, but with Facebook's rapid growth over the past year it may be time to revisit it. Here are some guidelines for making Facebook, and other social media, work for you rather than against you.
In a recent and non-scientific Times-Gazette web site poll, 43.1 percent of those responding said they accept almost all friend requests, and 2.5 percent accept every single friend request they receive. It's up to you how to use Facebook, but as for me I don't necessarily take every request. I find Facebook more useful if I leave it to people who are real-life friends and/or people whom I've been friends with in the past and with whom I'd enjoy reconnecting.
Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel may have had the right idea with his tongue-in-cheek "National Un-Friend Day" back in November, when he urged viewers to prune their friend lists and remove people whom they don't really consider real-life friends.
If you enjoy playing a Facebook game, more power to you. But if it's become a chore, and you're only doing it because your friends are doing it, think about removing the app. As a matter of fact, you may be shocked at how many applications you've accumulated in your Facebook account. (I was.) It's a good idea to sift through them, if only to remove the obsolete ones and know what's there.
Go to "account" in the blue bar at the top of the page, pick "privacy settings" and then click on the "edit your settings" link under "Apps and websites." There's a link for "remove unwanted or spammy apps." Click on it, and you will see what may be a very long list of apps, with the dates you last accessed each one. You gave many of those apps access to your private information when you clicked the button to install them. There are probably apps there that you signed up for just to enter a sweepstakes or sign some one-time petition or vote in a poll or what have you. Get rid of the ones you don't use regularly or don't recognize at all; you can always reinstall them later if needed.
Now, about those games ....
If there's a game that you've started to think of as a chore there's a possibility your friend may think of it that way too. Play what you enjoy playing but don't let your friends keep you in a game you don't enjoy anymore. Put your foot down -- or just slip out quietly, by deleting the app, and see if anyone even notices. It may be easier to get forgiveness than consent.
Go to "account" in the blue bar and pick "privacy settings" from the drop down list. study it. Think about who's getting what information. You can choose from Facebook's three generic options or you can customize your own settings so that you control exactly who sees which bit of information: everyone, your friends and their friends, only your friends, or no one. Make those decisions for yourself -- and make sure that you know what privacy settings your kids are using on their Facebook accounts.
Cars aren't evil. But driving a car while you're drunk, or driving it without the proper training, or driving a car without all of the required safety equipment can lead to some truly evil and tragic results. The stakes for a social networking site may not be that life-and-death, but they're higher than you think. Facebook isn't evil, but it's a powerful tool, and you need to know what you're doing when you plug it in.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.