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Strategies for Taking a News Break When You Can’t Quit the Internet

My husband is going on vacation soon and I can’t wait.

Now, let me assure you that I love him a lot. We celebrate our silver anniversary next year and he, as PG Wodehouse says, is the only tintype on my mantelpiece. However I’m also a grade A introvert and the idea of spending a few days absolutely alone and talking exclusively to the cats sounds like a slice of heaven.

In fact, I thought as I considered my upcoming calmcation, maybe I could try to avoid lots of things. No TV. No news. Minimum social media. Low stress. Just do some work around the house and play RimWorld for hours. “Wow!” I thought. “That sounds -”

… and then I remembered ResearchBuzz.

News is News is News

To keep things as apolitical I can, let’s assume for the purposes of this article that I find news about the World Cup football/soccer tournament to be stressful. Even when I’m not seeking information on the World Cup and would in fact like a breather from it, I end up seeing it as I work on ResearchBuzz. Obviously I don’t want to stop doing ResearchBuzz, but at the same time I would like to get a break from World Cup news while my husband is on vacation so I can de-stress as much as possible.

What I need is a set of filters I can easily set up that will either filter or divert World Cup news while I take a news break. When I’m done with my news break, the filters should be simple to deactivate but easy to leave in place for next time.

This can be done. You’ll have to use a few different tools, but it can be done.

Facebook: Social Fixer

Social Fixer is a browser addon that’s available at https://socialfixer.com/ . I installed the Chrome version but there are also versions for Firefox, Safari, Opera, Greasemonkey, and Tampermonkey. A version for Microsoft Edge is on the way.

When Social Fixer is first installed and you click on the wrench icon on the far right of your Facebook page and choose Social Fixer Options, you might feel overwhelmed.

screenshot from 2018 06 27 09 50 30

Social Fixer has dozens of ways for you to tweak and adjust your Facebook experience so it’s exactly the way you want it. A thorough overview of this addon would take its own article or possibly an ebook. For what we’re trying to do you just need to know two things from the Social Fixer Options: Hide Posts and Filters. You might be wondering why there are settings to both hide posts and filter them. It boils down to this: easy versus complicated.

Hide Posts

Hide Posts is a really basic filtering system. You specify lists of keywords or phrases you don’t want to see on your timeline along with a few preferences (do you want to see when posts are filtered, do you want to do partial matches, do you want to match case, etc.)

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If you specify that you want to see when posts are filtered, you’ll see entries in your Facebook timeline that look like this:

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(I had to use “read” as a keyword to get a quick example of what this exclusion looks like. Thank you, all the librarians on my Friends list.)

If you’ve got a more complicated need for exclusion than just omitting keywords, use the Filters option.

Filters

The Filters option filters posts on your timeline (as you might expect), but instead of you  having to specify keywords, you can choose from a set of “presets” ranging from hiding posts with the word “spoilers” to avoiding Game of Throne posts entirely to hiding sponsored and suggested posts. Note at the top of this options window you can choose to filter posts, Facebook Pages, and/or Facebook Groups.

screenshot from 2018 06 27 09 51 55

Though there are all these preset filters you can also create a filter of  your own that’s more complex than just blacklisting words.

For example, say I don’t want to hear about the World Cup except if it’s in reference to Cristiano Ronaldo (Please don’t @ me; I chose him because he’s the only player I know). I click on the Create A New Filter under the Filters option.

screenshot from 2018 06 27 22 49 24

I can stack a number of IF/THEN statements to exclude content if it mentions the World Cup and does not mention Mr. Ronaldo.

screenshot from 2018 06 27 22 49 50

There are other things you can do besides hide the post, like replace the text, but since we’re just looking for a quick filter, just hiding the post is enough.

Twitter

For Twitter, you’re not going to need a browser addon, though the methods you’ll use to filter will be slightly different whether you’re using TweetDeck or Twitter itself.

TweetDeck

TweetDeck is set up in columns (the number of columns is up to you, and I must admit mine are getting a bit out of hand.) Each column has its own filtering mechanism. Click on the  screenshot from 2018 06 28 17 15 18 1  at the top of the column and you’ll get a settings dropdown. There you can exclude keywords. Bear in mind that you might have to do a little experimenting. “World Cup” might not eliminate all the tweets you want to see; you might also have to exclude WorldCup, FIFA, etc.

screenshot from 2018 06 28 17 09 21 1

Twitter.com

Muting on Twitter is even easier – in fact, it’s startling how easy it is considering how awful some of the other parts of the Twitter UX are. You specify the words, phrases, or hashtags you want to mute, where you want to mute them from, and whether you want the keywords muted permanently or for a predefined period of time. You can get to the muting keywords option at https://twitter.com/settings/muted_keywords .

 

Now doing all this filtering at Facebook and Twitter is fine, but as you know I also use Nuzzel. Am I just going to have to stop using Nuzzel during my calmcation? No no no!

Nuzzel

Last year I wrote an article about Nuzzel launching a paid, Nuzzel Pro service. The service cost $9.99 a month or $99 a year and one of the features was being able to filter your Nuzzel feed by keyword. I got out my credit card and signed up. By the end of the year, however, Nuzzel Pro was discontinued but its features stayed intact.

Look for the Pro link at the top of the Options menu. The feature is very simple; just enter the keywords you want to filter. If you want to see the list of keywords you’ve filtered, go to http://nuzzel.com/settings .

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EMail

I can’t provide specific instructions for every possible email provider; I don’t know if you’re using a Web-based service or if you’re still stubbornly running Eudora (I wish I was!) so for this article I’m using Gmail.

It’s easy to set up a filter in Gmail – go to settings and choose Filters and Blocked Addresses.

screenshot from 2018 06 28 18 29 48

 

Gmail has a number of ways you can filter – by subject line, words that are and are not included, and so on. Most of my World Cup mentions are going to be in the body of Google Alerts e-mails, so I’m just going to do a general filter for “World Cup”.

 

screenshot from 2018 06 28 18 29 35

Once you’ve set the filter, click Create filter with this search and you’ll be given a list of items that currently match your filter and options for what you want to do with the mail.

It might be that you simply send it to the trash. I don’t want to do that because I figure I’ll want to look at the mail eventually, so instead I’m archiving the filtered mail into a special folder. When I’m back from my calmcation I’ll take a look at it.

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RSS

RSS feeds are the toughest things for me to filter. My NewsBlur account at this writing has 2296 feeds. I can’t individually filter them without breaking the “simple” and “easily reversible” intention of this article.

I’ve got a couple of solutions but they really depend on how many feeds you have. And if you have an unwieldy number of feeds like I do, you’ll have to jump through some hoops. But you can get it done.

SiftRSS — https://siftrss.com/

SiftRSS is for when you only have a few RSS feeds, as this tool processes them one at a time. Enter a feed URL and use the dropdown menu to specify whether you want to include or exclude items, and where the filtered items should be found in the feed. You can even use regular expressions if your filters are complicated.

screenshot from 2018 06 28 21 34 38

 

Once you’ve done that, SiftRSS will present you with an URL for your filtered feed.

 

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My recommendation — again, only if you have a small set of RSS feeds that you wish to filter — is to generate the filtered feeds, gather them into an OPML file using an OPML generator (like this one)  and import them into your RSS reader in their own folder. Read that folder exclusively while you’re taking your calmcation and then delete it when you’re ready to jump back in the news again.

But what if you’re like me and you have a goofy number of feeds? You need FeedRinse.

FeedRinse — http://www.feedrinse.com

If you have over 500 feeds, FeedRinse will not filter all your feeds because that’s its limit. I wasn’t happy about this because editing OPML files is a huge pain. Happily I did some looking around and found Dave Winer’s excellent (and free!) OPML Editor. I don’t have the space in this article to cover how to use it — I will in the future if there’s interest — but for the most part it’s easy. There are so just so many options that it’s easy to get confused.

Anyway I exported an OPML file from NewsBlur, ruthlessly pared it down using the OPML Editor, and imported it into FeedRinse. FeedRinse chugged for a moment and then presented me with two tabs: My Feeds and Channels.

screenshot from 2018 06 28 21 28 26

You’re going to see that My Feeds and you might flip out because it looks like you’ll have to edit every. Single. Feed. By Hand. Don’t worry about that. Click on Create a Channel. You’ll be prompted to name your new channel. Then you’ll get a dropdown menu to add one of your imported feeds with the ability via a + to add more. This is a little tedious if you have a lot of feeds but there’s a payoff.

Once you’ve added all the feeds you want, click Save Changes. You’ll go back to the FeedRinse home page. Click the My Channels tab. You’ll see your new channel. Now click Modify Channel. You’ll get a list of the feeds in your channel and an option to filter them at the bottom.

You can include or exclude posts based on words found in the post, title, body, tag, or author. Your filter will apply to all the feeds in the channel.

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Once you’ve got the feeds filtered to your liking, right-click on the orange icon next to your channel name and copy the link. Then add it to your favorite RSS feed reader. In my case I added Calmcation to my NewsBlur feed and my aggregated, filtered channel popped right up.

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When I’m done with my calmcation I’ll just delete the feed.

Undoing Everything

I’ll set an event in my calendar the day before my vacation to activate all these filters. I’ll set another to deactivate them. For the most part it’ll be a matter of undoing a setting or as I noted above, just deleting an RSS feed. Making it this easy will make this a sustainable way I can cope if I just need to step away from the news cycle for a while.

I know it sometimes seems like we have to stay in the news cycle and absorb everything and just power through it, if we want to find and focus on the things in which we’re interested. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can remove the stressors from your feeds and monitors. Even if it’s only for a few days, you can give yourself some space to bring down the tension level.

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