How to… Effectively Use Facebook for Activism
by Lili Trenkova
Facebook: don’t we all have a love-hate relationship with it? We love how it connects us with others around the world, and yet we hate how much time we often waste because of it. We love the powerful platform it provides us for our messaging and outreach, and yet we hate how easily discussions spiral into arguments and name-calling.
How do we use Facebook rather than it use us? Here are some tips.
Facebook lets us organize our friends and pages we “like” into lists. This is one of Facebook’s MOST useful and yet LEAST underutilized tool. It’s useful because it lets us customize our newsfeeds according to what interests us at a given moment and turning them into exactly that: news feeds. We all have many interests and specialties, and we all have friends from multiple networks. When we look at our general feed, it’s all too easy to get information overload; not only that, but we’re also letting Facebook’s algorithms determine our feed.
I have almost 1,500 friends and follow over 1,000 pages on Facebook. I’m an animal rights and social justice activist, a visual artist, musician and environmental designer. I’m interested in permaculture, bikes, nature, immigration issues, LGBTQ+ issues, international and local politics…among other things. Since I mostly use Facebook for my animal rights activism these days, however, when I look at my general feed, 99% of the posts I see are from other animal rights people. Which isn’t bad, but it’s Facebook’s interpretation of what I may be interested in reading about. But what if I wanted to read about art? I would have to remember certain art-related pages I follow and type their names in the search bar. What if I wanted to see if my college friends were posting pictures from our last reunion and there was no hashtag I could use to search by? I would have to look each one of them up. So much time wasted. By using lists, I can simply click on my “College Friends” list and scroll down a feed of only their posts.
Another pro for lists comes apparent when it comes to event invitations. Because I have an “Activists NYC” lists, whenever I make an activist event for our NYC chapter, it takes me 5 seconds to invite the people that need to be invited. I go to the drop-down in the upper left corner of the invitation pop-up box, choose my list, then check on “Select All”, the click “Invite”. (P.S. I can also narrow down whom I send event invites to by selecting a group I belong to and picking people, all or some, from there.)
If you’ve never used lists, it will take you some time to create and populate them. But it’s SO worth it, considering the time you will save later on. Once you do, it’s easy to keep up because with every new friend you add, you can also assign them to a list (or multiple lists).
Pages used to let you assign them to lists as soon as you “liked” them, but the shortcut no longer exists. Luckily, someone made this handy guide. After creating the lists, I recommend updating them about once a month, so you can add any recent page “likes”.
How to update list? Go to the list, then click on the “Manage List” dropdown in the upper right corner and select “Edit List”.
Then in the pop-up window, click on the “On This List” dropdown in the upper left corner and select “Pages”. This will show you all the pages you like. The ones already on this current list will show with a checkmark over the thumbnail. Scroll or search for pages you wish to add to the list and “check” them by clicking on their thumbnail. When done, click “Finish” and refresh so your feed updates.
One last cool thing about interest lists: you can add a page to a list without even “liking” it. Since you can set a list up as public or private, this gives you an opportunity to follow pages without anyone being able to see you “like” them. Hello secrets!
How many times do you wake up to find 30+ Facebook notifications, only 2 of which are important, but you miss them both because you get distracted by the rest? It used to happen to me all the time. Until I took control of what I get notifications for.
When I began to customize my notifications, I made myself once again decide what really matters to me, this time in terms of urgency. I’m a member of a ton of groups, but I only need to follow content in a handful of those – mostly the ones I’m an admin for. So went to my Notification Settings, clicked on the “Edit” button across from “Group Activity”, and turned off notifications for all other groups. I even did it for some pages I’m an admin for but which are currently inactive.
Facebook also lets us “bookmark” favorites, be it people, pages, lists or groups. On the desktop version, the “Favorites” bar is on the left hand side. On mobile, it shows as a list after tapping the “More” button.
Since I disabled notifications for most groups I’m a part of, the “Favorites” bar gives me an opportunity to bookmark groups I’m a part of but which I don’t want to necessarily receive notifications for. This way I can decide when to check them. I can add pages to my “Favorites” too.
The “Favorites” bar is where where I can place friend lists and interest lists as well. I can reorganize the order of their appearance as well to whatever makes sense to me.
- SEE FIRST
Are there people or pages whose posts I can’t miss? I can enable the “See First” option. This way every new post of theirs will show at the top of my regular news feed. The option appears under the “Following” drop-down menu in the lower right corner of their cover photo.
We all know about blocking individual people or banning people from our pages. We’ve all had to resort to doing it unfortunately. But there are other, less “severe” ways to use this tool so it only blocks people from doing certain things.
Let’s admit it: even if we are super Facebook-savvy now, at some point in time we weren’t. So there are plenty of people out there who still aren’t. No judgement whatsoever, but here are a few things I’ve had to block certain folks from doing in order to reduce my notifications for things that don’t pertain to me:
Being invited to events nowhere near me. This is where making those lists comes in super handy, so you don’t do this to other people! Obviously if it’s an umbrella event for a multi-city/multi-country event, or a world-famous festival or something big like that, it’s one thing. But the chances of me going to a concert in Haiti or a potluck in Seattle from NYC on a weeknight…let’s just say it won’t happen. So once again, whenever I’ve noticed I get such invites way too frequently from certain folks, I’ve chosen to block them from inviting me to things. This is in the “Blocking” section, towards the bottom.
Being tagged in a post that has nothing to do with me or that I do not wish to be associated with. Understandably, tagging many people in a post with a video of animal cruelty for instance will give it more exposure as it will show in many more people’s feeds. I for one, however, do not appreciate this because 99.9% of the time it isn’t something I was asked consent for. Since there’s no way of blocking someone from just tagging me, I’ve enabled the “Review posts” setting in “Timeline and Tagging”. This way I get alerts every time I get tagged, and I can either remove the tag or simply hide it so the post doesn’t show in my timeline.
- PUBLIC COMMENT VS. PRIVATE MESSAGE
Some things need to be called out or discussed publicly, while others are best discussed in private among only the parties involved. Comment threads on posts can take quick turns for the worse because they are visible and accessible to many people. The more people in an argument, the more fractured the discussion will become and the more likely that people will get hurt. I’m all for calling out oppressive behavior, but I do recommend switching to private means of communication when arguments get heated and personal…as they often do on Facebook. If possible, I recommend meeting in real life, and if not, using audio/video conferencing over Facebook messenger. Speaking to someone, whether in real life, over the phone or via video conferencing allows me to experience many more layers of a person’s tone that are lost in text chats, as well as to express myself in ways beyond words, and ultimately communicating on a much deeper level with that person.
- TAKING A BREAK
We must never forget that Facebook is just one of many tools we have for communication and action – but not the only tool. So it’s perfectly fine to step away from it (and even temporarily deactivate our accounts) from time to time if we feel the need. Activism is draining, and Facebook news feeds can surely trigger our emotions and make us feel hopeless. It’s ok to feel this way and it’s ok to take a break from it. When we return, we’ll be that much more efficient at using it for the things it’s best for! It’s important we return because there’s no denying that Facebook is a great tool for building and participating in our communities – and it’s our communities that make us go onward and keep fighting justice.
Got any other tips for using Facebook more efficiently? Feel free to reach out, and we can add your suggestions and you as a contributor to this article!