How to make Facebook friend lists (to manage your online presence)

Ostensibly, this tutorial is for my aunt (who asked me how to do this over Thanksgiving, and then I promptly forgot), but I figured it might be useful to others who want to better / more easily control who sees what on your Facebook page.

While putting this together, I was reminded of this presentation I saw awhile back about the difference between Real Life friendship and Social Media friendship, which I thought was pretty spot on, and also sort of like a “Why bother?” argument for setting up these lists. In the terms used in the presentation, I use my friend lists to group people by the strength of the tie I have with them (which I suppose I will get into later).

Due to a rather large outcry, Facebook has recently (and by recently I mean in the past 6 months to a year) really beefed up the privacy aspect of the site. Everything has become very fine-tuned such that, for example, you can prevent people from seeing a particular status message, or a photo album. The only problems with this are (a) that there had to be a large outcry in order for Facebook to change this and (b) it’s still somewhat complicated and a bit of work to set up. (a) is rather out of the scope of this blog post, but I’m hoping to address (b) and dispel some of the confusion.

On to the actual tutorial!

When you log into Facebook, you’re brought to your personal home page, which contains your news feed of what all your friends have been up to, along with random other shenanigans that keep getting shoved into the sidebars (such as the new Questions feature, which irritates me, and you can’t shut off. Grr.) To get to your friends, there should be an item labelled “Friends,” located in the far left hand column. (I’ve boxed it in red below).

This brings you to a rather useless (in my opinion, seeing as all this same information shows up in your News Feed when it happens) view; in order to edit, you must click on the “Edit Friends” button at the top of the screen (again boxed in red).

Sidenote: You can also get to this same page by going to your Account menu (top right) and selecting “Edit Friends”.

From this page, you can actually do things to manage your Facebook friends. You can see in the far left hand column that I’ve already got some lists created. As I mentioned before, I’ve got my lists arranged such that they designate the level of the tie I have with those people. My “Good friends” list contains all the people that I have very strong ties with. Incidentally, these are also the people that I most likely interact with the most. They can see everything I post on Facebook. My lists grow more restrictive from there; “Decent friends” and “Acquaintances” both see lesser amounts of my information, while “People I don’t care about” can’t see much more than those people I’m not friends with at all. Truthfully, if I took the time to do a purge, I would defriend all of the people in that list.

That’s just how i’ve arranged my lists, however; arrange yours in a way that makes the most sense to you.

If you’ve already got lists created, you can add to or subtract from them on a person-by-person basis (when you hover over that person). This is pretty tedious if you’re doing this for a lot of people, and if you’re doing this for the first time, you have to go the other route. So just skip to that.

The other route: Click on the “Create a List” button at the top of the screen.

This will bring up a dialog box like so. Name your new list by typing in the text field at the top of the dialog box (which says “Enter a Name” in it).

Then, add friends to your list. You can use the handy search box if you have a particular friend in mind; otherwise, you can just scroll through all your friends. To add a friend to the list, just click on them; the friend will then appear highlighted in blue, with a check mark over his or her profile picture. Click on the friend again to unselect him.

Once you’ve added all the friends that you want to your list, click the “Create List” button at the bottom of the dialog.

This will go and actually create your friends list, and return you to a view of this newly-created list (where you can double-check that you’ve set up everything right).

After you’ve created all your friends lists, you can manage your privacy settings with them. To go to your privacy settings, click on the Account menu, and then click on “Privacy Settings.”

From here, you can edit your basic settings…

…that control on a rough-grained level who can see what information, and who can perform what actions (in relation to you).

From that same Privacy Settings page, you also have a very fine-grained control over who can see the information that you have shared…

…which includes profile information, photos, statuses, WHATEVER. You post it, you can limit who can see it.

When you click on the drop-down button to specify the privacy level for a particular piece of information, one of your options is “Custom Privacy.” To use your newly-created friends lists, click on this option. This will bring up a dialog window like so. You can make something visible only to a specific group of friends by selecting “Specific People…” from the “Make this visible to These people” dropdown, and then typing the name of the list into the text field that appears. You can also choose to hide something from a specific friends list (if that’s easier), which is what i’ve done below. (For example, I don’t want the work people I’m friends with on Facebook (for networking purposes) to be able to see those pictures I posted from that party I went to.) To save your changes to your custom privacy setting, click the “Save Setting” button at the bottom of the dialog.

While you’re managing all of these fine-grained privacy settings, it’s easy to lose track of what can be seen by whom, which is where this “Preview My Profile” comes in handy.

You can see what your profile looks like to someone who is not friends with you. This is how you can tell what sorts of information you are sharing with the World at Large.

Infinitely more useful (once you’ve set up your friends lists) is the ability to see what your profile page looks like for a particular person. This is how you can verify you are sharing the exact information you desire with each friends list.

Hopefully that demystifies the process a bit. Ultimately, the slog work is all yours (and it can be a bit tedious). Luckily, once you set this up, you’ll only have to make minor tweaks from then on.

Questions? Comments on my process? I simul-post my blog entries on Tumblr, Facebook & Twitter, so respond in any of those places and I’ll see it.

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