Optimizing Social Media Browsing for Minimal Data Usage – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

The nomadic lifestyle, whether in an RV, boat or some other conveyance, goes hand-in-hand with social media. For many nomads, social media is the best way to stay connected with friends and family, but the downside is that it can use a lot of precious mobile internet data.

As the internet becomes more and more media rich with video and high definition graphics, social media platforms are consuming even more data, which can impact mobile internet users.

This guide will show you how to setup different social media platforms to use the minimal amount of data, and to give you guidance on which platforms to use caution with when using mobile internet WiFi sources like mobile hotspots.


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Overview

Social media platform are ever-changing beasts, and new one's startup all the time.  This guide will give you some tips and tricks for the most popular platforms, aimed to help those of us who rely on capped, restricted or limited mobile bandwidth.

Thankfully each service provides a way to reduce data usage by providing options for different kinds of content. However, you typically have to manually override default settings and some of the settings do not apply when using WiFi, as the services assume those sources are always unlimited. This is not necessarily true for nomads.


General Tips

For social media platforms and websites that you use regularly, check your account settings to see if there are options for reducing the amount of bandwidth they use.  Many sites and apps today will have options to reduce data use, particularly for big data items like pictures and video.

Those that auto-play video are the biggest culprits.

There are also extensions and add-ons for web browsers like Chrome and Firefox that can reduce data either by blocking content or disabling auto-play on websites.  Search the various web stores to find an extension or addon that will reduce your data.

We don't track individual browser add-ons and extensions in the guide because they depend on which browser you use, but here are links to add-ons for the four most popular browsers:

For tips on reducing data consumption on video streaming services like YouTube, Netflix and more, please see our comprehensive guide:

TV & Entertainment on the Road


Facebook

In addition to being a fantastic time-suck for many, Facebook can also a big mobile data hog.  Most data use with Facebook comes from displaying photos and videos. By default, Facebook will autoplay any videos shown on your timeline - whether you want to view them or not.

Fortunately, Facebook provides options to reduce the amount of data used.

Facebook Website

The Facebook website only offers options for reducing video quality. Unfortunately, Facebook only offers photo quality settings for its mobile apps, so if you are surfing Facebook on your computer there may not be any way to reduce data from images.

To access the video settings, you need to click on the upside-down triangle next to the question mark on the right side of the top menu bar and then click the "settings" option:

Here are the options for videos:

Facebook browser video settings

Video Settings for the Facebook website.

Here are the useful options in this menu:

  • Video Default Quality - "SD Only" is the option that will use the least amount of data and it is the option we recommend for mobile data users.  The other options are "default" and "HD."
  • Auto-Play Videos - "On" and "Off" are the two options.  We recommend turning this setting to "Off."
  • The other video options here don't have a significant impact on data use - set them to your personal preference.

Facebook iOS App

The Facebook iOS app provides some limited options for controlling data - it can disable autoplay of videos and limit the size of photos uploaded from your device to Facebook.

iOS video and photo settings

Video and Photo settings for iOS

To access the options:

Get the Book
  • Tap on the 'More' tab in the lower right-hand corner (it is represented by 3 parallel lines).
  • Scroll all the way down to almost the bottom of the menu and select 'Settings and Privacy'
  • Select 'Account Settings'
  • Select 'Videos and Photos'
  • Under Video Settings, turn off uploading in HD - unless you want to post high definition videos from your mobile device.
  • Click 'Auto-play' to access the auto-play menu, you'll have three options:
    • On Mobile Data and WiFi Connections:  This option will turn on autoplay.
    • On WiFi Connections Only: Videos will only autoplay when the phone is connected to a WiFi source - this includes cellular-data WiFi sources like mobile hotspots.
    • Never Autoplay Videos: Turns off autoplay - our recommended setting to maximize data savings.
  • Under Photo Settings, turn off uploading in HD - unless you want to post full-resolution photos from your mobile device to your Facebook account.

In addition to these settings, you can turn off cellular data completely for Facebook in the iOS general settings:

  • Open the 'Settings' app
  • Scroll down to Facebook
  • Useful options to consider changing:
    • Cellular Data: Turning this off will prevent Facebook from using your phone's cellular data.
    • Background App Refresh: Can save some data by preventing the app from refreshing content in the background.
    • Siri & Search: Disabling Siri can save a small amount of data when doing searches, but probably not enough to be too concerned about.

Facebook Android App

Android Facebook App Settings

App settings for Android Facebook App

Android users have a few more data-controlling options than iOS users.

To access the primary app options:

  • Tap on the 'More' tab on the right side of the top menu (it is represented by 3 parallel lines).
  • Scroll all the way down to the 'Settings and Privacy' section.
  • Select 'App Settings' - You'll have several options here you can change:
    • Autoplay:
      • On Mobile Data and WiFi Connections:  This option will turn on autoplay.
      • On WiFi Connections Only: Videos will only autoplay when the phone is connected to a WiFi source - this includes cellular-data WiFi sources like mobile hotspots.
      • Never Autoplay Videos: Turns off autoplay - our recommended setting to maximize data savings.
    • Upload Photos in HD: Turn off to save data.
    • Upload Videos in HD: Turn off to save a lot of data.
Android Facebook App Data Saver

Data Saver option for the Android Facebook App

Data Saver Option:

  • Go back to the 'Settings and Privacy' section and select 'Data Saver.'
  • Data saver is a single option you can turn on to reduce image size and stop videos from autoplaying.  These options are in addition to the upload resolution options in the previous section.

Facebook Lite App for Android

Android users in some parts of the world can download and use a 'lite' version of the Facebook app, which is a watered-down version of the app designed for older hardware and very slow mobile networks.  This app became available to US-based users in March, 2018.

This app is not for everyone, but it is a good option to save data since it was designed to work with extremely slow data connections. It could also be a good option for those in an area with poor data speeds.


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