There’s never a bad time to delete your Facebook account: Chances are good you use it less than ever, and every time you do log on you're greeted by a slurry of reheated viral news and life updates from two or three distant acquaintances. Now, though, feels like an especially good time to pull the plug.
There’s the ongoing series of Wall Street Journal stories that claim the company repeatedly ignored internal research about the various harms its products cause. There’s the prolonged outage that made you think maybe so much of the world’s internet activity shouldn’t run through a single company. And there’s the general sense that Facebook is probably, on the whole, not so great for society. At a certain point it’s too much, you know? If you’ve reached that point, here’s how to quit Facebook for good, along with how to limit how much it can track you after you’re gone.
How to Deactivate Your Facebook Account
Let’s establish first that there are a few things you can do that feel like deleting your Facebook account that are, in fact, not that. Deleting the app from your phone? Cathartic, maybe, but functionally useless. Deactivating your Facebook account? A little better, in that you mostly disappear from the platform, but it still holds onto all your data, waiting patiently and indefinitely for your return.
And look, OK, maybe that’s the right option for you; maybe you want a nicotine patch instead of going cold turkey. There are no wrong answers! To deactivate your account, click the down-facing arrow on the top right of the page when you load up Facebook. Click Settings & Privacy, and then Settings. From there, swivel your gaze over to the left-hand panel of options, and click Your Facebook Information. Then back to the central menu, where you can scroll all the way down to Deactivation and deletion. Phew!
When you click it, you get the two options advertised: deactivation and deletion. It defaults to deactivate, so go ahead and click Continue to account deactivation. You’ll need to reenter your password, which will unlock a page that requires you to give a reason for leaving, and gives you a chance to opt out of emails from Facebook (notifications, basically, that a friend has invited you to join a group or some such, even though you are a zombie account) and to keep using Messenger. Select all that apply, hit that blue Deactivate button, and call it a day.
Well, almost. Deactivation doesn’t accomplish all that much in practice. Messages you sent to your friends will still be in their inboxes, and you’ll still show up in their friends list. Posts and comments you’ve made in groups will still be visible to admins. And, again, Facebook will continue to hold onto all of your data in perpetuity. All you have to do to reactivate is log back into your account. It’s like writing a big “leaving New York” essay but continuing to pay exorbitant rent on a nice little one-bedroom in Astoria.
How to Delete Your Facebook Account for Real
If you’re ready to make a more serious commitment to severing ties, take a quick minute first to consider if Facebook has any data resting on its servers that you might want to keep. Maybe you used it as a photo album in the late aughts. Maybe you have messages you want to hold onto. Maybe you did a good post one time? If so, what was that like!
The point is, it might be worth saving your Facebook data—or shuttling it to another service—before you nuke your account. This is not hard to do, although it can take a little time. From that same downward-arrow icon you started at before, head to Settings & Privacy, then Settings. In that left-hand pane, go to Your Facebook Information. If you just want to switch where you keep all that stuff online, hit Transfer a Copy of Your Information, then choose from among the nine options it gives you. (This is Dropbox, Google Photos, Backblaze, that sort of thing. Also: Blogger?) Once you pick a service, you can choose what kind of data you want to transfer and how much of it; for photos, for instance, you can set a date range, or select specific albums. Make those decisions, connect to the destination service, and let the transfer begin. You may have to go through this process a couple of times if you want photos to go one place and posts and such to go somewhere else.
You can also opt to take it all offline entirely by heading to Download Your Information. There are 44 categories of data, and you’re not going to want all of them. (Most people can say goodbye to Facebook without downloading their bug bounty program history.) Take some time to deselect the ones you won’t miss. Set your date range to All Time, set the format to HTML so that you can actually parse it when it comes through, make sure you’ve set the Media Quality drop-down to High, and click Create File. Facebook will notify you via email when your download is ready.
And with that! You’re ready to delete. Follow the same trail as for deactivation (that’s Settings > Settings & Privacy > Your Facebook Information > Deactivation and deletion). This time, select Delete account, then Continue to account deletion. It’ll prompt you to deactivate instead if you want to keep using Messenger, and remind you to download your stuff before you go. Hit Delete account, and you’ll have to enter your password and click Continue. And then poof, you’re gone.
Well, not quite yet. Facebook has a 30-day grace period just in case you change your mind; just log back into your account and click Cancel Deletion. The company says it could take 90 days to actually delete all your account’s data, and that it might hold onto some of it anyway in “backup storage” that it keeps on hand for recovery purposes. But this is as deleted as you can get.
How to Limit Facebook Tracking You
You thought you were done! You are not done, sorry. This is mostly a reminder that even though you don’t have a Facebook account anymore, Facebook still tracks you. That could be through its broader family of apps, like Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Oculus. Or even without any of those, its preposterously expansive ad network gives it insights into most of the internet’s users, whether they’ve ever signed up for its social networks or not.
Your options here are pretty limited, unfortunately. You can request to opt out of some ad-targeting activity at the Digital Advertising Alliance’s YourAdChoices site. You can use a privacy browser like DuckDuckGo. Or you can chuck all of your electronics into the sea and embrace a return to nature. Short of that, chances are Facebook will track you one way or another.
Still, deleting your account is a good place to start. And this seems like as good a time as any to do it.