How to tidy up your Facebook account

Most of us know that maintaining an online presence is crucial these days, but a messy Facebook page that overflows with TMI (too much information) can backfire. It could cost you a potential job, change the way your university professors see you, and even damage your reputation among your friends. Maybe you went on a "liking" spree, and now half your friends can't even bear to look at your Timeline, cluttered as it is with meaningless activity. Maybe you posted a sarcastic jibe at someone else's expense or an improper photo that, in hindsight, you know you shouldn't have.

All that junk has accumulated on your Facebook account and the thought of cleaning it up is probably overwhelming.

Well, fear not. In this article I'll share some tips on cleaning up your Facebook page with a minimum of fuss.

I'll guide you through three of the most important sections:

  • Settings, privacy, security (an overview)
  • Activity, which includes status updates, photos, and other information that appears on your Timeline
  • Basic info and contact information

Settings, privacy, security

Some of Facebook's settings essentially allow you to make sweeping changes to how your account is seen by both the world at large and your friends. Others make sure you receive a notification when someone tags you in a photo or writes on your Timeline. You should definitely revisit most of these to make sure they're set how you want them, but here are some of the most important ones to check:

1. Privacy Settings > Timeline and Tagging

2. Privacy Settings > Limit the Audience for Past Posts (referring to Timeline)

3. Account Settings > Notifications

Timeline and Tagging gives you control over who can see what on your Timeline. The second setting, Limit the Audience for Past Posts, refers to Timeline, and is a quick fix button for keeping your Timeline content out of view if you haven't had a chance to review older content item by item. Notifications are important so that you can keep your Facebook account clean as other people perhaps add comments or images that you ultimately don't want appearing on your page.

My advice here is to take your time going through the settings. If that's not enough help and all you really want to do is lock down your account and make sure no one gets their hands on sensitive information, see security expert Neil Rubenking's article "How to secure your Facebook account."

Activity (Timeline)

When Timeline first came out, highly active Facebook users were thrown for a loop. Suddenly, some of their very old content, like status updates and other activity that was previously buried and nearly impossible for others to find, surfaced as highlights on their Timeline. Anyone they had befriended long after they had originally posted that content could now see it easily. Here's an example: Say you posted some pretty edgy content in 2009. Then in 2011, your parents joined Facebook and became friends with you. Before Timeline, it was very hard for your parents to see your sassy public mouth-offs posted two years prior. After Timeline, some of those posts popped up as highlights of the year.

So how do you go back through thousands of pieces of content to delete, hide, or otherwise restrict who can see them? The quick fix is to go to Privacy Settings > Limit the Audience for Past Posts (as mentioned previously), but you can also go through your posts in more detail without the hassle of trying to fix them from Timeline itself.

Use the Activity Log

To access it, go to your Facebook Timeline page (that is, click on your name in the upper left corner of the site), and look for the Activity Log button that appears below your cover photo on the right. It's highlighted with a yellow underline in the image above.

While you can manage your activity, like the visibility of status updates and whatnot, from the actual Timeline itself, you'll find it much easier to do from the Activity Log.

As the Activity Log page notes, only you can see your activity in this view. It's an excellent and quick way to see a summary of all your activity at a glance – and much easier than doing so on Timeline, I promise.

The list sorts chronologically, with the most recent activity at the top. Each entry briefly describes the activity, shows when it occurred, and displays a thumbnail image when applicable. To the far right of each entry you'll find toggles to allow or disallow the content on Timeline, as well as the option to restrict who can see the activity when applicable. For example, you won't be able to set any visibility restrictions for content that you "like," but you can remove it from Timeline or unlike it, as shown below.

Another amazingly useful feature is the Activity Log filter. Clicking the Activity Log button at the top left of the page drops down a menu that lets you filter what type of activity is shown. If you want to focus your efforts solely on photos, for example, you can do so with this tool.

Try using the Friends filter. A grid of your friends will appear. If you gently roll over (but don't click on) any friend, you can change which groups they're in and even unfriend them. This tool arms you with much more granular control than anything you'll find in the Settings and Account pages.

Basic info and contact information

Go to your Timeline and click on About, which is a few lines beneath your profile picture. This page has a number of sections that you should probably review and update as necessary. But the two most important ones are your Basic Info and Contact Information.

The Basic Info may be what most newcomers to your page (or anyone else checking up on you) see first. I prefer to keep mine sparse. The people who matter most to me know my relationship status, religious beliefs, political leanings, and so forth, and the people who don't know me well enough don't need to know those things.

Bear in mind, too, that all the basic information fields you fill in are decisive factors in determining what kind of advertising you see on Facebook. When businesses buy adverts, they might ask Facebook to only show the ads to single women under the age of 40, for example. In fact, almost everything you enter into Facebook becomes a gauge for advertisers, but the basic info is by and large some of the most important information. It's not just your friends who can see your birthday. It's advertisers, too. Keep that in mind when you edit your basic info.

It’s just as important to review your contact information, especially your email addresses. Earlier this year, Facebook changed one of the settings in the email section to give every user a Facebook.com email address and make it visible on Timeline by default. This email address lets anyone from any mail service send a message directly to your Facebook Messages inbox. But you don't have to keep the information public. You can limit who can see it and remove it from Timeline in the Contact Info editing pane.

A more functional Facebook

One last note: Try using the View As option to see how your profile looks to others. Go to your Timeline page and select the gear icon to the right of the Activity Log button.

This feature lets you see your Facebook account as anyone else, either a specific friend or the public (although you can't view it as a friend of a friend, unfortunately). It's a nearly fool proof way to check what another person (like your boss, professor, grandmother) can and cannot see.