The Courage to Get Old
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ELDER GEEK: How to Use Facebook

VirginiaDeBolt75x75Virginia DeBolt (bio) writes the bi-weekly Elder Geek column for Time Goes By in which she takes the mystery out of techie things all bloggers and internet users need to know to simplify computer use. She has written several books on technology and keeps two blogs herself, Web Teacher and First 50 Words. You will find links to Virginia's previous Time Goes By Elder Geek columns here.

I thought I wouldn't like Facebook. I thought it would be just another time waster social media tool that I didn't need. But I discovered that I really do like it. Here's why:

  • I can keep up with local event announcements such as meetings, gatherings, and class schedules from my Tai Chi Kuan.

  • I get reports from friends on matters that I care about such as reports from the hospital, news about new grandchildren, and travel experiences.

  • I can keep up with members of my family.

  • I can keep in touch with a community of people who share my interests.

There are other things to do on Facebook. A lot of people play games. I can't tell you anything about the games, because I don't play them. You can upload photos. You can chat. You can schedule events and take RSVPs. You can create a fan page for a business or celebrity or TV show or cause or even a website.

Go to and start an account. It's free. The first thing you do is give Facebook the information you want to make public: your name, and information about you. You decide what you want to share. Do you want to mention your high school? Tell where you live? Describe your interests? All this type of information goes into the settings and info for your account. Watch for the setting marked Privacy under the Settings tab.

manage your privacy settings in this section

Click the "manage" link and set up the rules for what you want to be public and what will be kept private. Facebook may assume you want everything to be public unless you tell it otherwise, so spend some time telling it otherwise.

Another tab in your account that you want to pay attention to is called "Notifications."

the notifications tab

In the Notifications area, you decide what you want Facebook to send you a notice about. Do you want to get a notice when someone asks to be your friend or sends you a message? Here's where you set that up.

When you are logged in to Facebook, you see a menu at the upper right. It says "Home Profile Account."

Facebook global menu

When you first log in, you are on your home page. Here's a bit of my home page.

Virginia's Facebook home page

On the left of my home page, I can choose to see my news feed (the news feed is what my friends are posting on Facebook), my messages, any events I'm invited to attend, my photos, and more. I can also see which of my friends are online at the time in case I want to chat.

If I click "Profile" in the menu at the upper right, I see my profile information on the left (which I can edit at any time) and on the right is my Wall where I post things I want to share. Other tabs next to the tab for my Wall include Info‹where I tell more about myself and can link to my blog. There's a tab here for Photos, which is where you start when you want to add photos.

If you want to write something to post on Facebook, go to your profile and look at your Wall. There's a blank box there you type in. You are not limited to 140 characters on Facebook the way you are on Twitter. You can type quite a lot in this box.

post things to Facebook using this form

Under the input box, there are a few icons that trigger actions like including a photo, video, event, or link in your post. Post what you want in that box and click Share. Anyone who is your friend on Facebook will then see what you posted on their Home page as part of their News Feed.

There's a search box at the top of the page in Facebook. You can search for people you know. Type their name and see if they are on Facebook. If they are, you "friend them" which means you ask to be added to their list of contacts. The other person has to agree to this. If you don't agree to let someone be a friend, they cannot see what you post. When you agree to be friends with another Facebook user, they see what you post and you see what they post. You can chat with them. You can invite them to events or send them personal messages.

You can comment on things that your friends post, and they can comment on things you post. This can get a discussion going.

an Facebook post with comments

This example shows a Facebook post with comments. I'm a Facebook fan of "In Plain Sight" a TV show filmed in Albuquerque. This is what they put on Facebook the day after the episode with Rita Moreno (isn't she fabulous?). Several hundred people said they "liked" the post, which means they like the photos, and over a hundred more left a comment about the post.

When you're a fan of a Facebook page, it's a little like being a friend. You get information on your home page from whatever you're a fan of­it could be a cause, a website, an entertainer, or something else.

There is more to Facebook, but learning how to sign in, post something, and check in with what your friends are doing are the main Facebook skills. Once you get good at these things, you can explore and branch out.

Some warnings might be in order as part of the "more" you may find on Facebook. There are applications that run inside Facebook that do things like play games, help you find your relatives, and hundreds of other things. Be careful with these. Before you agree to let an application into your Facebook account be sure you know what they want, what they will do with your information, and that they are not just wanting to sell you something.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Chaput: The Voice


At first when I joined Facebook I didn't like the feature of having other people's posts end up on my wall as game players were swamping my posts there; and then I discovered I could hide all of that and still keep the person's own comments visible. I also have the option of hiding a friend's posts totally from my wall and going to their wall when I am curious about what they are doing. I have yet to chat there, do not do any games, but I do like the photo posting feature. It is where my family photos go now. Facebook works fine for me at least for now.

Virginia, thank you for posting this comprehensive-yet-easy-to-understand introduction to Facebook! As I recall, women over 55 are among the fastest-growing demographics on Facebook, yet I keep running into people who are not familiar with it at all. Your guide can help them get started!

I also use it to send notes to a family member who has a Facebook account but not an email address or a phone. They respond if needed on Facebook. Works for us.

I have a Facebook account, but have never explored how to use it. I only go there when someone friends me or sends a message. I guess I had better give it another look.

Thanks for the information, Jan.

I was "permitted' to sign up for Facebook once my children were out of college; before that they considered me "a stalker". Sharing photos and keeping up with nieces and nephews makes far-flung relatives feel right next door. I play Wordscraper (faux Scrabble) and have developed long-term-on-line-superficial-but-friendly relationships with people all over the globe as we play rematch after rematch. Perhaps the best use of FB was in reconnecting with classmates in preparation for our 40th HS Reunion last fall. Plans were made, hotels reviewed, attendance was encouraged... and it was all free and easy.

I guard my privacy zealously, and keep most of my information restricted. But for those I've let into my circle of love, it's the best thing I've found for staying connected.

As a 71 year old techno-granny, I ignored FB for a long time. Then, I noticed that my Yahoo groups were dwindling in posts and content. I joined FB and found every one was there having a party without me. I have been FBing for a year and love it.

I live on the west coast. My siblings are all on the east coast where I grew up. One of the fringe benefits of FB is keeping in constant contact with them.

Rain, thanks for mentioning the Hide option for keeping the play by play activities of your friends who play games off your page.

I guess I'm lucky that my children and grandchildren have been willing to have me as a friend on Facebook. I especially like having little chats with my granddaughter who lives far away after she gets home from school in the afternoons.

Thank you for this help. I'm lost when it comes to getting posts from my friends. No games, yes I let one application in then realized it was very intrusive, so all I want to do is see ALL the posts made by my friends. Just lost. Ah well....

It takes a while to see the benefits of Facebook, and I didn't like it at first. I got used to Facebook and figured out how to manage the privacy settings and so on, and now I love it.
My blog is not a suitable place to talk about my kids' personal lives or to post pix of them, so Facebook is great for picking up on the news and seeing what they are up to, as at my granddaughter's birthday party, etc.
Thanks for the tips, Virginia, which I can use to make my Facebook experience even better.

I didn't like FB at first, mainly because of all the silly applications and games people play. But I discovered that you can hide the stuff that you don't like. For example, one of my friends plays a game that I don't like at all, I chose to hide her games while I can still follow the rest of her "news'. And the FaceBook app on the iPhone is great. My daughter and quite a few of my former students have befriended me, I hide the really silly ones from my sight without offending them ;)
And the cherry on the cake is that a couple of years ago, when I didn't use FB at all but only had an account that I hardly ever visited, one of my long-lost friends found me. As she lives in the centre of France where I never go, I don't think we would have got together otherwise.

Thank you, Jan...I like FB - it is kind of a grab bag of info. By the way for any Jewish folks on TBG - there is a that lets you check out your ancestors. Very interesting to check out.

This post discussed a lot of the good with Facebook but it minimizes the privacy issues and problems. First, FB relies on an opt-in marketing strategy, where its users are automatically included in programs. this forces FB members to constantly opt out of things... a time-consuming frustration especially if you are an infrequent FB user.

Second, there are privacy settings in several places within the FB site. I liken this to several gopher holes one must visit to effectively limit what personal data gets shared. And FB can change things anytime which overrides your settings, so you have to revisit those multiple privacy setting places.

Third, FB has a spotty history with privacy (e.g., Beacon, several class-action lawsuits, etc.). Over the last week, I have deleted personal data from FB given its new privacy policy.

Be fully aware of the risk.


George, You make a good point. I would add that Facebook frequently changes things--appearance, privacy settings, and more. If you pay attention to such changes you can keep on top of the privacy settings issues as they arise.

Thanks for the FB info., Virginia. My dtr guided me thru setting up my acct. last Dec. including privacy settings. George's info re FB's ever-changing privacy set up is certainly impt. to be aware of and one that has influenced my limited involvement there.

I've restricted my FB "friends" to only personal friends and family that I don't mix with blogging friends with whom I can have contact through our blogs, other. I don't visit my FB regularly so several months passed before learning someone was looking for me to tell me their non-computer using family member former classmate had others trying to find me. Has been fun to connect these fifty years later and we'll likely try to get together in the future.

I've embraced more tech than I once thought I might including texting, plus I really like Skype and will likely keeping adding whatever evolves in the future -- sooner or later. Am looking forward to possibly adding the next IPad after it shakes down and the price mellows. The IPhone is even attractive to me now though I currently don't have one.

ADDENDUM 5/15/2010. Just a few days after I wrote this post, Facebook made some big changes to their privacy settings, making it really difficult to find and set everything the way you want it. This graphic from the NYTimes may help you navigate the menu. Or, it may scare you silly. (It does me.)

I think Facebook is going to have to change its direction on privacy if it wants to keep its users. They need to get their act together and show some respect for their users.

Here's a Facebook rant by the brilliant danah boyd that you may find interesting.

I think I'll appreciate FaceBook more when my kids are on their own and I want to keep up with them.

Hello Lee, I just love reading this post, keep it up.

Freya, UK

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