Based on about six months away from Facebook and on Mastodon, I’ve had some thoughts on improving your social media experience. There are a lot of common pieces of advice (turn off notifications, disable Facebook timeline with a browser extension) which I am not going to repeat. I hope the advice I’m offering is more novel (if not totally).
Curate your social media experience by unfriending, unfollowing, blocking, and muting people. Different platforms offer more tools, some more than others. A negative social media interaction can spoil your mood for the whole day and affect your productivity and health. But on the whole, social media is not very important. So the benefits of blocking are high, and the costs are low. You should feel free to block anyone for any reason, or no reason, and not feel bad about it, or feel like you have to explain it to anyone.
Basically, your minimum goal is to not see their content on your timeline. If you have a negative interaction with a stranger or acquaintance, you might want to block them, so that they cannot interact with them at all, or at a minimum unfriend them (Facebook) so that you do not see them on your timeline, and they cannot see your friends-only posts. For a friend or family member, you may wish to unfollow (Facebook) or mute (Mastodon), so that their posts do not appear on your timeline, but they don’t get any indication that you are avoiding them.
Separate your different social identities. You may not want everyone to see your political posts, or your party posts, or your religious posts, for example. (Note! This is for the convenience and pleasure of your readers, not for privacy. See following item.) Different platforms offer different ways to do this.
On Twitter or Mastodon, the best way is to have multiple accounts for different purposes. On Mastodon, those accounts may even be on different servers. Then when you post or share something, choose which account you want to post from. This is helped by having a multi-account client like Twidere or Subway Tooter.
There are a couple-three ways on Facebook. You’re not supposed to have multiple accounts, as they’ll delete fake name accounts, but you can probably get away with it. Another way is to use the list feature to choose who can see each post. This way probably has the best outcome, but is hard to remember to use consistently. And the final way is to make a page. This is good because it provides some level of pseudonymity, but then you also have to try to get all of your friends that you want to see it to like it, which is hard.
Remember that everything is public. Yes, even private things are public.
All of the major social platforms have various privacy settings, but you should not depend on them.
On any of the main platforms, at least the site administrators (employees of the company, for Facebook and Twitter; your instance admin and possibly moderators for Mastodon) can read anything you post, no matter what the privacy settings. And every platform also has other potentials for leaks. Notably, Facebook changes its privacy settings in unpredictable ways every year or two, privacy in Twitter is a second-class feature, and Mastodon may strip privacy metadata when federating with older GNU Social or StatusNet instances.
And, finally, there is always the “analog hole”. Put simply, even if someone cannot share something you’ve written, or cannot share it in a way that other people can see, they can take a screenshot and share that. And there’s basically no way to prevent this.
If you have something to discuss that’s really private, you need end-to-end encryption. Mostly, this is not something you will find in social platforms. Currently, it is mainly in secure messaging apps like Signal, Wire, or Conversations. And it is also appearing in group chatroom apps like Riot. There are experimental social media apps like Patchwork, but they are not really ready for ordiary users.
Basically, you should follow the advice of Depeche Mode: You had someething to hide; should have hidden it, shouldn’t you. Tell what you have to tell, and hide what you have to hide.
Own your content. Post things on a site you own (typically a blog), then share it to Facebook, Twitter, or wherever. This has advantages for both you and the health of the Internet. But the main advantage for you is that the content you created is not trapped in some corporate silo. If Twitter goes out of business, or bans you for not using your deadname, you still have everything you posted. This principle is called POSSE: Post (on your) Own Site; Syndicate Elsewhere. It’s not really easy enough for everyone to do yet, but we’re making it easier! For now, if you can’t run your own blog, think about what small steps you can make in this direction.
And that’s it! I hope you find these ideas useful and helpful.