Even more than Big Dick Energy or binge watching Queer Eye, this year’s hottest trend may be threatening to quit Facebook. In March, following the news that political data group Cambridge Analytica had gained access to private user information to create targeted ads ahead of the 2016 election, the hashtag #DeleteFacebook circulated widely on Twitter. In September, people once again took up the rallying cry when Facebook suffered another massive security breach affecting 50 million users.
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 54 percent of Facebook users ages 18 and older have adjusted their privacy settings in the past year, 42 percent have curbed their Facebook usage, and 26 percent have deleted the app from their phone. But the simplest security fix — just leaving the network altogether — may also be the hardest to execute successfully.
“A lot of people go cold turkey and end up coming back on because they’re not ready for all the connections they’re going to lose.”
For all its flaws, Facebook is still be an integral part of many people’s lives, acting as a lifeline to faraway relatives, a trove of professional opportunities, a connection to the neighborhood, or a digital map of experiences lived. Plus, with all the ancillary apps that require (or provide the convenience of) Facebook logins, like Spotify, Tinder, and Airbnb, quitting can feel like fighting your way out of an impossibly tangled web.
If you truly want to leave the platform without a trace, you’ll need to put in some effort. Here’s how to do it.
Make a Timeline
A specific post, reaction to a news event, or cumulation of cringey online behavior from friends and family may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. But as tempting as it may be to swear off Facebook then and there, don’t let yourself be fueled by emotion — without plotting out a solid course of action, you’re more likely to log back in, says Nithin Coca, a freelance journalist who took two months to plan his own Facebook exit. “I know a lot of people go cold turkey, and I feel like those people end up coming back on because they’re not ready for all the connections they’re going to lose,” he says.
You may soon realize that the social network is your only point of contact with certain acquaintances and then break your ban to get in touch. Giving yourself time to assess your post-Facebook social needs and strategize accordingly is a sound way to ensure you won’t come crawling back.
Ease Your Way Off
Coca recommends starting by cutting yourself off from just one way of accessing Facebook. Delete the app from your phone so you can get used to its absence in your day-to-day, or take the opposite approach and block the site on your personal and work computers.
To help with the weaning process, Deanna Zandt, media technologist and author of Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking, says it’s helpful to take a cue from former smokers who broke their habit in part by substituting other behaviors — in this case, maybe by becoming more active on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) or Twitter. “When I quit smoking, I carried around a water bottle with a little nubby sucky thing on top and chewed on it,” Zandt says. “What’s your nubby thing for Facebook?”
Download Your Data
Make sure you’re not leaving the site empty-handed. For a complete catalog of all your Facebook info — embarrassing photos and revelatory Messenger conversations included — the network offers a service called Download Your Information. (Find it via Settings > Your Facebook Information > Download Your Information.) Here is where you can compress your posts, photos and videos, comments, likes, friends, messages, events, and more into one massive file, creating a log of info from the entire time you’ve been on Facebook or from whatever time period you specify.
Disconnect Your Apps and Devices
Unlink your profile from everything to prevent accidental backdoor Facebook logins or posts. First, tech lifestyle blogger Stephanie Humphrey suggests removing access from any prior devices you’ve used to log into Facebook, like “an old iPad you gave your cousin or a phone you had 10 years ago that you didn’t wipe completely but there’s a chance your info could be on it,” she says. Go to Settings > Security and Login to find a module of all the devices on which you’re currently signed in. Remove access from all.
Next, you’ll want to disable any apps you might’ve connected to your Facebook account, like Spotify and Tinder, as well as websites that allow you to log in with a Facebook account, like Yelp and OpenTable. Go to Settings > Apps and Websites, then check all and press remove. (Be aware that you’ll have to create new logins for everything.)
If you’re particularly concerned with any of these outside services holding onto your Facebook info, Humphrey suggests reaching out to each one individually to request the deletion of your data. “When you disconnect the apps that you’ve used Facebook to log into, they still retain information about you,” she says. “That becomes a data point they can then sell.”
This is important because if you log into one of these linked apps using your Facebook credentials after deleting your account but before Facebook has actually deleted it (it’s a 30-day window — more on that later), your Facebook account could accidentally be reactivated, Zandt says.
Scrub Your Profile
When Coca deleted his Facebook, he did a mass untagging of every photo on his page. If you want to take it even further, Humphrey says you can ask the person who posted the photo to remove it altogether if it depicts you in an unflattering light, since it will still live on the site even after you’re gone. The same goes for private messages; the other person will still have access to the transcript even when you’ve deleted your account. “If you really want to remove all of those connections,” Humphrey says, “you will have to go individually to those people.”
Finally, rid yourself of friendship. Coca deleted each of his 600 Facebook friends individually. Those he hadn’t spoken to in years got a prompt deletion. For the connections he actually spoke to, he gave a heads up before cutting them loose to make sure he had an alternate way of contacting them. Coca also informed his network he’d be leaving Facebook with an announcement on his profile. If you really want to make sure enough people get the news, you can even follow up with multiple posts to ensure your message stays present in your connections’ feeds. Another effective route is to change your profile picture to a graphic mentioning the date you’ll be leaving Facebook, Zandt says.
Find Alternative Methods of Communication
If you relied on Facebook to keep in touch with people, you’re going to have to step it up in other areas. Slack, Signal, and (Facebook-owned) WhatsApp are fan favorites for encrypted and group chat. For a more old-school approach, send emails, start text conversations, or become a more prolific caller. Even more antiquated: You could always try writing letters.
“Most everyone forgot my birthday the first year after I quit because everyone relies on Facebook.”
Get a Day Planner
Losing Facebook means forgoing a daily reminder of your friends’ birthdays. As you’re unfriending, transcribe important contacts’ birthdays into a hard-copy calendar or a digital one like Google or iCal.
Expect Some FOMO
Don’t be offended if friends forget your birthday or if you miss a few event invites. “Most everyone forgot my birthday the first year after I quit because everyone relies on Facebook,” Coca says. Similarly, you might miss out on a few parties or other gatherings simply because the host forgot that you had no way of getting the Facebook invite.
And without Facebook, you’ll lose what Zandt calls “ambient awareness,” the ability to passively stay up to date on your friends’ lives through their posts. Luckily, there are plenty of other social networks to fill the void. But depending on the social media habits of the people in your life, keeping yourself in the know might take a little more effort than it used to.
Create a Fake Profile
If you need a Facebook account to manage a business account, or if you can’t say goodbye to a neighborhood or professional networking group, there’s an easy fix: Create a dummy profile with a fake display name, no friends, and no info.
Once you’ve hit the delete button — don’t confuse “delete” with “deactivate,” which hides your profile but doesn’t remove it entirely — Facebook gives you a 30-day window to change your mind (until recently, this grace period was two weeks, but it doubled following the September data breach). If you log in during this period or use a third-party app that has a connected Facebook login, you can choose to cancel your deletion. After the window elapses, Facebook then starts to delete your data, which could take up to 90 more days. So sit tight and do your best to resist temptation.