this is how to #deletefacebook and live without it, for good
With ex-tech-evangelists telling us to quit social media for our mental health, and an alleged major data breach that handed user data over to the alt-right, you might want to quit the app. Here’s how.
That snazzy tinfoil hat -- the one you’ve been keeping in storage ever since Home Secretary Amber Rudd demanded to read everyone’s WhatsApp messages -- has just come spectacularly back in style. With the Observer publishing their historic exposé on Cambridge Analytica (a company who allegedly mined Facebook user data to influence people to vote for Trump and Brexit) -- and an undercover Channel 4 film showing high-profile representatives explaining the really quite scary workings of their ‘psyops’ (psychological operations) -- it’s ok to be feeling sceptical about tech companies. In fact, #DeleteFacebook has been trending on Twitter for days. And now even the founder of WhatsApp, Brian Acton, is telling us to quit it.
If you need a final push, know that the Cambridge Analytica execs filmed in the Channel 4 sting said the following about how easy it is to manipulate you: “The two fundamental human drivers when it comes to taking information onboard effectively are hopes and fears, and many of those are unspoken or even unconscious. You didn’t know that was a fear until you saw something that just evoked that reaction from you. And our job is to drop the bucket further down the well than anybody else, to understand what are those really deep-seated underlying fears, concerns. It's no good fighting an election campaign on the facts, because actually it's all about emotion.”
It’s not easy for everyone to delete Facebook. As the New York Times’ cybersecurity journalist Sheera Frenkel tweeted over the weekend, “For much of the world, Facebook is the internet and only way to connect to family/friend/business.” Living in the UK, I’m privileged to have other options for messaging, sharing images, planning events and poking people (actually IRL), so it is much easier for me to decide to delete mine. Here are some easy (and sometimes revelatory) steps that you can follow if you want to do the same…
Download all your Facebook data
If you want to preserve all the photos, videos, thoughts, feelings and late night drunk-pokes you have shared over the years, you can download everything Facebook has on file about you really easily. You’re probably going to want to do this on your laptop or desktop, because it’s way easier, and so you can connect an external hard drive. You need to click the dropdown arrow in the top left (up where your profile link, notification icons and the ‘?’ help icon are). Then click Settings, and below the table of edit options click “Download a copy of your Facebook data”. You’ll need to enter your password to start the process, and Facebook will email you when the .zip file is ready to download.
Once you’ve downloaded it, you can see fascinating information that Facebook holds on you, which may include, but is not limited to: your political and religious views, your posts, your posts on other people’s walls, posts by others on your wall, your IP addresses, facial recognition data, family connections, education history, credit card details, check-ins, apps you use, and the ads you’ve clicked on. Find Facebook’s full list here.
Identify other apps using Facebook to log in, and change them
In Settings > Apps and websites, you can find lists of apps that you logged into with your Facebook account. If you’re like me, they probably include other social media accounts like Instagram (more on this later), services like Spotify, gig ticket websites, voting apps (for industry awards), petition sites, and newspapers. Decide which ones you actually still need, and then go and change your login details to an email address, instead of Facebook’s auto-login. You can find lots of guides on tech sites about how to do this. Here is one about unlinking your Facebook and Instagram (more on this below).
Find other ways to message, share images and organise events
You know those boring people who go on about how life existed before Facebook? They are right, and maybe now is the time to understand this insight in a more meaningful way (but for the love of all things good, don’t tell them). The ability to connect with a community of people online that you might struggle to connect with in real life -- such as LGBTQ communities when you live in a very homophobic place -- is powerful. But for many people, Facebook’s promise of connectivity merely extends to people you went to school with years ago who you barely even remember, and never interact with (online or IRL). We are connected, but not in a way that makes us happy. Study after study has shown how bad social media use can be for your mental health, especially if you are a woman. Spending hours of an evening scrolling feeds, assuming everyone is too busy and fabulous to want to hang out, is unlikely to make you as happy as actually being with a friend in the flesh. Why not call, text or email your friends? It removes the performative element and snooping potential of social media sites, it feels nice and private, personal and warm, and almost as exciting as receiving actual post (not for work, or a bill). It’s worth mentioning that WhatsApp and Instagram are owned by Facebook, so you can work out how you feel about that.
Delete Facebook and don’t look back
There is no simple Account > Delete Account pathway, obviously. The option is buried on a help page. On desktop, click the ‘?’ Quick Help icon at the top left of Facebook, and on the dropdown menu that appears click Help Centre (top left). On mobile, click the ‘triple bar’ options icon, scroll to the bottom and click Help and Support > Help Centre. From the Help Centre, I searched “delete account” and it was the second result down, “How do I permanently delete my account?” Once you’re on that help page, click the linked text “let us know" at the bottom of the first paragraph, which will take you to the real deletion screen, where you click “Delete my account” and then enter your password. Two weeks later, Facebook will start deleting your data. 90 days later, all your data should be deleted.
As one Twitter user points out, however, “If you are worried about companies using data to target you, then you need to delete your Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and stop buying things from Amazon and stop searching with Google and cancel all your credit cards and stop donating to charity and cancel mag[azine subscriptions].” Which is true, though nothing quite on the scale of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal has been alleged for the others. While a tinfoil hat is now de rigueur, you’ll need to work out for yourself just how much you want to wear it.
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.