It is OK to be upset with Facebook. It’s even OK to not fully understand why you are upset with Facebook this time. In a year of monthly, sometimes weekly, complicated scandals for the social network, it can be difficult to keep track of the exact reason or moment you lost trust in it.
If what you are certain of is that you want to leave Facebook for good, here is what you need to know — including some reasons why you may want to reconsider.
Why everyone is mad this time
A recent New York Times investigation found Facebook (FB) had shared more user information than previously thought with outside companies, such as Amazon and Spotify, as part of special partnership deals. Some companies had access to private messages and names of friends. The Times’ report follows years of the company mishandling user data and increasing concerns about its ability to protect people’s privacy.
Why it’s hard to say goodbye
Deleting your profile could hurt you more than it does Facebook, and it might be unfair to punish yourself instead of the organization responsible.
Many of us have spent a decade building extensive networks on the site — connections and communities that span the globe and aren’t easily replicated anywhere else. Leaving Facebook means leaving support systems, neighborhood groups, work connections and friends behind. (Sure you can get that former colleague’s email address, but honestly, will you ever call or text them?)
In some places it’s hard to quit Facebook because it is the internet, particularly in countries where Facebook subsidizes cellular service. When Facebook is a more reliable and affordable form of communication than email or phone calls, people can’t easily get rid of their account to protest privacy violations. (On the other hand, in places where Facebook is the internet, like Myanmar, the site has probably contributed to political division and bloodshed. So… it’s complicated.)
And the thing is, if you quit Facebook the network, that doesn’t mean you’re quitting Facebook the company. Doing that means deleting all of its products including Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger. Ghosting all the dogs you follow on Instagram could be a harder sell than giving up the toxic political rants you can find on Facebook.
Your data is already out there
Facebook has been collecting information on you for years, and maybe even a decade, depending on when you signed up. And there’s a good chance that at least some of the information Facebook has on you has already been shared with a number of other companies.
And it’s not just Facebook. Other apps on your phone, sites you’ve visited, and advertising companies are constantly collecting information about where you go and what you’re interested in. Deleting Facebook will not get that information back — you will live on forever in databases — though it will limit how much those companies collect going forward.
Deleting Facebook probably won’t change Facebook
If you want to delete your account to send a message to the company, consider this: Facebook has around 2.3 billion users around the world. Even after the year it has had, including a viral #deletefacebook movement, the company has continued to grow that number.
While Facebook is likely unhappy with the never-ending bad news and tumbling share prices, the reality is that a few hundred or thousand people deleting their accounts won’t hurt it. Especially if many of them keep using Instagram. The bigger issue could be usage dropping and impacting ad sales.
“The hard truth is that users are powerless and unimportant as individuals to Facebook,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of social media studies at the University of Virginia and author of “Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy.” “If you and 100 of your friends quit, Facebook doesn’t care because in that time it’s signed up 1,000 users in Brazil.”
Laws could force Facebook to change
Boycotting might not push Mark Zuckerberg to make a dramatic change at the company, but government intervention could. Vaidhyanathan thinks it would be more effective if users urge lawmakers to come up with legislative and regulatory interventions to reign in the abuse of personal data, not just by Facebook but by all technology companies.
“Our first step is recognize our weakness as Facebook users, and then recognize our strength as citizens,” Vaidhyanathan said.
Facebook is already getting pressure and fines from European and UK regulators who now enforce stricter data protection measures than their US counterparts. In the United States, the company is facing its first major governmental action over the Cambridge Analytica scandal from the DC attorney general. There’s also a chance it could be in trouble with the FTC.
How to delete Facebook
Of course there are still plenty of good reasons to quit Facebook, like minimizing your risk of seeing misinformation or being distracted by baby pictures when you should be working or looking at your own baby. And doing so can also reduce the risk that your data might in the future be used or shared in ways you don’t like.
“I think quitting Facebook for peace of mind is a wonderful idea. Facebook can be a real drag these days,” says Vaidhyanathan, who still uses the service to keep up with happenings in his neighborhood.
Before going full delete, test out a life without Facebook for a week or more by deactivating your account. Deactivation is an option that Facebook pushes instead of deletion. It removes your profile and most traces of you from the social network, but saves everything so can restore your account at any time.
If you had no issues or regrets during the trial period, go ahead and delete it.
- First, download all of your years of data. On the desktop version of Facebook, click the triangle in the top right corner and select Settings. Select Your Facebook Information and Download Your Information.
- Get alternative contact information for important contacts.
- Finally, Go to Settings, Your Facebook Information, Delete Your Account and Information. Click the blue Delete Account button.
It will take up to 90 days for Facebook to clear out all your information, and it will keep some anonymized data, like logs of when you posted and if there was a comment on it.
Congratulations, you have more time to check Twitter.