Facebook‘s come in for a lot of criticism lately, and one of the biggest is that it collects a massive amount of personal information on each of its users and uses that information for its ad targeting. Then there’s the fact that the social network became a tool for a large number of Russian operatives to spread fake news and ill feeling during the 2016 election cycle, and it’s still being used that way today. And the fact that early executives say Facebook was deliberately designed to suck up as much of your time as possible.
Or maybe you’re just sick of wading through funny animal videos and inspirational sayings set against sunsets and mountains. Whatever the reason, you’ve had enough of Facebook and you want out.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Here are your options for getting out of Facebook, depending on exactly what you want to have happen and, frankly, how much time you have to invest in the process. None of this is as easy as it should be, but here’s how to do it:
1. If you just want to cure your Facebook addiction, consider logging out.
If all you want is to spend less time on Facebook, then the simplest and easiest thing to do is simply log out of your account and delete the Facebook app from all your devices (or if even that seems like too much, log out of your account there too and turn off all notifications from Facebook).
There are a few drawbacks to this approach. First, your Facebook friends who are accustomed to communicating with you there won’t know what’s become of you so you might want to post on your news feed that you’re going away for a while (or forever). Second, if you’re concerned about all the data Facebook is holding onto about you…well, all that data will still be there. If you’re concerned that a prospective employer or date will look you up on Facebook and find embarrassing information or photos, logging out won’t change that either. But at least you won’t be adding any more embarrassing content.
2. If you don’t want to be found on Facebook, consider deactivating your account.
Deactivating your account is a completely reversible step that will hide you and most of your information from searches on Facebook (although your name may still show up in your friends’ list of friends or in messages you’ve sent). If your main concern is to avoid having a prospective employer or your ex find you on Facebook, deactivation may be the best option. You can change your mind and reactivate your account at any time, and everything will be right where you left it.
For something with few consequences, deactivating your account on Facebook ought to be easier than it is. Go to settings on Facebook (via the drop-down arrow on the upper right corner of the page). Choose General Account Settings if Facebook doesn’t take you there by default. Click “Manage Your Account,” the bottom item on the list.
From there, choose “Deactivate Your Account.” You’ll have to enter your password to continue. After that, even though Deactivation is completely reversible, Facebook will ask you if you’re really sure. Just to make deactivation tougher. It will remind you that your (however many) Facebook friends will no longer be able to keep in touch with you. (Facebook assumes you don’t have their email addresses or phone numbers). On top of that, it will show you photos of a few of your friends, declaring that each of them “will miss you.”
Assuming that’s not enough to change your mind, it will ask you to fill out a short survey explaining why you’re deactivating your account. Take note that by default, even when your account is deactivated, Facebook will go right on sending you emails whenever someone invites you to an event or tags you in a photo. If you don’t want that, you’ll have to opt out here. Once you do all that, your Facebook account will be deactivated–until the next time you log in. And of course, Facebook will go right on keeping all your data.
3. If you don’t want Facebook keeping your data, and you’re sure you won’t be back, go all the way and delete your account.
Deleting your account really isn’t easy and comes with a couple of extra drawbacks. Chief among these is that you’ll also be shut out of any apps you’ve linked to Facebook for your sign in. Fortunately, Facebook will tell you which apps those are. Go into Settings and click “Apps” in the left-hand column.
I was completely blown away when I tried this. I usually avoid having apps use my Facebook log-in but even so, I had 82 apps listed as linked to my Facebook account. Many of them were apps I hadn’t thought about or used in years. If you want to continue using your linked apps, you may have to adjust your account settings on those apps to use an email-and-password log-in, or use some other platform to sign in, such as Google or Twitter. Spotify is particularly problematic, though–it won’t let you decouple your Facebook profile. If you truly want to delete your Facebook account, you’ll need to create a new Spotify account.
Also, if you want to retain a record of your activity (photos, posts, etc.) on Facebook even after your account is gone, you will likely want to download your activity before you delete your account. Back in your account settings, at the bottom of the page, you will see an option to “Download a copy of your Facebook data.” Click that–you’ll have to enter your password again–and then click “Start My Archive.” When Facebook has finished gathering up your data, it will send you an email with a link to download it. That link has a time limit, so make sure to download your info it soon after you receive it.
Once you’re finally ready to delete your account, your next challenge is to figure out how to do it. It’s not obvious so the easiest way to find out is to click the quick help icon (question mark) on the upper right. That will lead you to a search box where you can type in “delete account.” You’ll find an article titled “How do I permanently delete my account?”
The article first reminds you that you won’t be able to reactivate your account and then suggests that you download your data (see above). After that it says if you truly want to delete your account with no possibility of recovery, “log into your account and let us know.” Those last three words are a link that takes you to a page to delete your account and asks you one more time if you’re sure. Put in your password, enter the captcha, and you’ve started the process.
You’ll have to wait a bit, though. Facebook will delay for a few days (as though you were purchasing a gun?) to make sure you really, really mean it. If you log into Facebook, even accidentally through a mobile app, during that time your delete will be undone. If you’re careful to stay off Facebook, though, eventually your deletion will go through. And while some information, such as your name and your messages to others may remain on the social network, most of the personal information about you will finally be off Facebook’s servers.
4. Or, stick with Facebook from beyond the grave.
Of course, Facebook doesn’t want any of this. It wants to hang on to your information forever. So it has a suggestion for you: Leave your Facebook account to someone after you’re gone. In fact, this is the first suggestion that comes up under “Manage Your Account.” Facebook calls this a “legacy contact.”
If you prefer not to be a ghost on Facebook after you yourself are gone, you can request that Facebook delete your account as soon as someone notifies the company of your demise. But only after it asks you a few times if you’re really, really sure.