I’ve been contemplating deleting my Facebook for years, but every time I’d come close to making the jump I’d come up with some excuse about why it would be impossible. I needed Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family while living out of the country. I needed it to stay in touch with friends who live abroad. I needed it to stay on top of news. I needed it for my job. I needed it to validate my existence with a constant stream of engagement.
This resulted in a long on-and-off relationship with the platform, in which I would deactivate my profile for weeks or months at a time, only to come crawling back. Recently, however, it occurred to me that I hadn’t used or even thought about Facebook in over six months. Then the Cambridge Analytica story broke, which revealed just how easily Facebook’s massive collection of user data could be mishandled. It seemed like as good a time as any to finally pull the plug and permanently delete my Facebook profile.Even if you don’t care about your personal data being sold to third parties that might use this information to, say, manipulate a national election, there are plenty of other reasons why you might want to delete your Facebook profile. A growing body of research suggests that using Facebook makes us depressed. Sometimes Facebook even makes us depressed on purpose. Facebook is a primary vector for fake news. Facebook contributes to genocide and racism. You already spend 50 minutes a day on Facebook, but the company wants even more of your attention. Facebook is a goldmine for hackers. Facebook is a stalker’s dream. Facebook has a stranglehold on digital media.Deleting your Facebook might be a good way to regain control of your personal data online, improve your mental health, or free up your time, but it’s also important to recognize that deleting your profile is a privilege that isn’t seen as a realistic option for many people in the world. For all its downsides, Facebook has become an indispensable tool for many. The company has also made attempts at trying to fix some of its problems: It’s asked users to report fake news. It’s banned spammy ad networks. It’s implemented a trial for automated revenge porn detection, and an algorithm to detect suicidal users. Still, many users feel the social media giant hasn’t gone far enough in fixing it’s platform—including Mark Zuckerberg.
Although there’s a strong argument to be made for Facebook reform over abolition, there’s no reason you can’t delete your own Facebook while helping improve the platform for those who depend on it.Facebook makes deactivating your profile as easy as clicking a few buttons, but permanently deleting it can be a bit of a pain in the ass if you don’t know what you’re doing. So here’s a step-by-step guide to leaving Facebook for good:
First, you need to decide whether you want to deactivate or delete your account.Deactivating basically just logs you out and makes your profile invisible to all your friends until you log back in. Your friends will still be able to see all the old messages you’ve sent them, but they aren’t able to message you unless you’ve opted to keep Facebook’s messenger app running on your phone. To reactivate your account, all you need to do is log back in to Facebook, and everything will be just as you left it.
DEACTIVATE OR DELETE?
Deleting your account, on the other hand, will make your profile inaccessible forever. Your friends will still be able to see messages you’ve sent them and posts to groups will remain, but all your comments, status updates, photos and everything else stored in your account will be permanently scrubbed from Facebook’s servers within 90 days of pulling the plug.It’s important to note, however, that deleting your Facebook doesn’t delete your data from any third-party services you may have connected to using your Facebook profile. This means you’ll have to basically reach out to each third-party service individually and ask them to delete your data, which they don’t have to do since you agreed to provide it to them in your terms of service. It may also mean losing access to apps that you’ve signed up for with Facebook, such as Tinder. Although you can create a new Tinder profile without Facebook, you will no longer have access to your old profile.
If you’re anything like me, a decent portion of the last decade or so of your life is probably stashed in your Facebook profile. Even if you’re ready to jump ship, you probably don’t want to leave all those photos behind or have no way to contact your friends and/or that one person you met that one time at that one place.Fortunately, there are plenty of options out there that allow you to scrape all the photos from your Facebook albums. I used a Chrome extension called ‘DownAlbum,’ which makes it trivially easy to download photos and videos to your hard drive once you’ve figured out the user interface. The plugin downloads your Facebook albums as webpages and saves them to your local drive so you can still access them after deleting your profile.Next it’s time to let all your friends know that you’re leaving the platform. This sounds like more of a pain than it is. Odds are you don’t even talk to most of your ‘friends’ on Facebook, so this might involve sending a few direct messages to the people you want to stay in touch with, but haven’t exchanged phone numbers or email addresses with. Another option is to post a status update and ask people to send you their contact info.
PICKING UP THE SCRAPS
If you absolutely insist on personally sending your contact information to all 5,420 of your Facebook friends, this isn’t too hard to do. Facebook doesn’t make it easy to send a mass message to all your contacts to prevent spamming, but there’s a simple workaround. Just open a new message, type ‘a’ then enter and keep doing that. Once you’ve run out of friends with an ‘a’ in their name, do the same with ‘e’ and the rest of the vowels and you’ll have created a message addressed to every one of your friends.
Now it’s time to scrub the Facebook posts that won’t be deleted when you axe your profile. This includes all the posts that aren’t stored in your profile, such as posts to Facebook groups. Facebook keeps a record of all your posts, which you can view by selecting ‘Activity Log’ from the drop-down menu in the upper right corner of your homepage. To see only your group posts, select ‘Group’ from the bar on the left.Unfortunately, Facebook doesn’t offer an easy way to delete posts from your activity log in bulk, which leaves you with two less-than-stellar options. You can go through your group posts and delete them one by one. If you weren’t posting much in your groups, or only want to delete selective posts, this option will be fine. But if you were the top commenter in your favorite Furry groups and want these posts to disappear, you’re going to have a harder time.
There are specialized scripts that will automatically go through and delete your activity log for you. I tried out Absterge, which works with GreaseMonkey (a Mozilla extension that allows users to customize websites with small scripts), but found it to be pretty slow. It also crashed frequently, meaning I had to actively monitor the script to make sure it was still running. If there’s a better option, however, I have yet to find it.Lastly, if you want a copy of all your Facebook data, you can go to your settings and under ‘General’ you will find a link that will download a copy of your data. This includes posts you’ve shared, messages with friends, and any information you’ve posted to the ‘About’ section on your profile—it’s basically an archive of your entire activity log. It can take a while for Facebook to compile all this information, so make sure you’ve set aside some time, or don’t plan on using Facebook while it compiles the report.
Once you’ve saved your photos and bid adieu to your friends, it’s time to log out forever. This is easy enough to do. Just navigate to
LOG OUT, FOREVER
and click ‘Delete My Account.’ Be warned: Once you click that button, you will have 14 days to log back in and change your mind. After that, there will be no way to access your account ever again, for better or worse. Once you’ve clicked, however, rest easy knowing that the majority of your digital fingerprint has been erased from Facebook. The only signs that you were ever there will be data that isn’t stored in your account, such as messages to your friends.Now that you’re officially Facebook-free, it’s up to you how you’re going to use that freedom. Maybe you’ll read a book or donate your time to fighting censorship online. Maybe you’ll actually visit the websites of the news organizations you love, to help keep them in business. Maybe you’ll write your representatives and demand that they hold social media companies accountable for what happens on their platforms.Or maybe you’ll just log in to any one of your myriad other social media profiles, and hardly notice the difference.Subscribe to Science Solved It, Motherboard's new show about the greatest mysteries that were solved by science.