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

As the internet has become more and more media rich with video and high definition graphics, social media platforms are consuming a lot of data.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter now autoplay video in your timelines and default to higher definition media.

For those of us relying on capped, restricted or limited mobile bandwidth these sources can easily burn through data allotments.

Thankfully each service provides a way to reduce automatic data sucking, and allowing you to opt in to what you want to use your precious data for. 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.

This document will be an evolving resource guide on 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.

In this guide, we currently cover:

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Twitter - Disabling Video Auto-Play

In June 2015 Twitter enabled video audio play and increased the quality of videos presented. While auto-play is now on by default, Twitter has also provided ways to turn off auto-play both on their browser view and in the iOS app. The features is soon expected for Android as well.

If you're on mobile bandwidth, and utilize Twitter - here's where to find the setting:

twitter video auto playbackOn the browser/desktop view:

  • Click on your User Icon in the upper right hand corner to display the Profile & Settings menu.
  • Select 'Settings'
  • Scroll down and unclick the Video Autoplay option under 'Video Tweets'

For the mobile app version (currently available for iOS, Android is coming soon):

  • Tap the 'Me' tab in the lower-right corner
  • Select the gear icon, then select 'Settings'
  • In the General section, choose either 'Use Wifi Only' or 'Never Play Videos Automatically' for Video autoplay.

Remember to Save your changes!

Facebook - Disabling Video Autoplay

Facebook is a time suck for many, but it's also a mobile data consumer when it comes to displaying photos and videos. By default, Facebook will autoplay any videos shown on your timeline - whether you want to view them or not.

Here's how to control when you play videos.

On the browser/desktop view:

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  • facebook video settingsOn the very top right hand corner of Facebook, click on the little down arrow to bring up the Settings Menu.
  • Click 'Settings' from the pull down.
  • Then click 'Video' from the left hand menu that appears.
  • This will bring up two options:facebook browser video autoplay
    • The first one allows you to select if videos display in SD (standard definition - which is lower resolutions, and thus uses less bandwidth) or HD (high defiition, which will use a lot more bandwidth). This will be your default setting but you can manually override this when viewing videos. We recommend setting this to 'SD Only', and then if there's a video you want to see in HD select that at time of playback.
    • The second allows you to select your autoplay back settings. For mobile bandwidth users, we recommend selecting 'Off'. When a video is posted to your timeline, it will now just show as a thumbnail, and you can click on it to play the video in the definition you selected above.

For the mobile app version:

You can click on the 'Follow this guide' link on the Facebook website for their instructions, or briefly:

  • facebook mobile app video playback - 4Tap on the 'More' tab in the lower right hand corner.
  • Scroll all the way down to almost the bottom of the menu and 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.
    • facebook mobile app video playback - 1Smart auto-play - if you enable this features. Facebook will attempt to auto detect and guess what is the best experience for you. In our estimation, it's best to manually control your experience so we recommend turning this feature OFF.
    • Choose Your Own Auto-Play Setting - You can choose to auto-play when on both cellular or WiFi (i.e. 'Always'), WiFi only or to never auto-play. If you use your smartphone as your mobile hotspot anyway, leaving this as WiFi only may be an ok choice. However, if you use a MiFi/Jetpack or a mobile router that might have a cellular source - we highly recommend selecting 'Never Play Videos Automatically'. As the WiFi source the app detects could very well be a cellular capped source.

Instagram - Minimizing Data Usage

Instagram displays photos and allows for posting 15 second video clips. These video clips auto-play, and Instagram has removed the option to not have them auto-play. Instead, they now have a 'Cellular Data Use' setting you can enable.

Here's how to do that from the mobile app version:

  • From your account profile tab (click the 'little dude' in the lower right hand corner), select the 'Gear' at the top of the page.
  • Scroll down until you find the 'Cellular Data Use' menu item, and tap it.
  • From this screen, enable 'Use Less Data'.

From Instagram's description of this feature, all it does it stop the app from pre-loading video before you scroll to them. It will cause videos to take longer to load, but they still auto-play as you encounter them.

Instagram cellular data use

It also says that this setting has no effect when using WiFi. So be very conscious that if you're browsing Instagram on your smartphone over your own WiFi that is using a cellular connection like a mobile hotspot - that Instagram will preload videos in your feed in the background.

Instagram has no data management tools for their browser version.

Overall, we recommend using caution when browsing Instagram on mobile data sources.

Other Social Media?

For other social media platforms or websites you use regularly, check your account settings to see if there are options for reducing the amount of bandwidth they use.

Let us know in the comments if there are other social media platforms that are data consuming hogs that you'd like us to add to this guide. Those that auto-play video are the biggest culprits.

Video Playback & Streaming

For tips on reducing data consumption on video streaming services like YouTube, Netflix and more:

Adjusting Video Streaming Quality to Save Bandwidth

Managing Bandwidth – Common Data Hogs

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