Thinking of leaving Facebook? Not so fast . . .

The #DeleteFacebook movement is gaining traction. How can users effectively delete their account and what might they miss?

‘A growing number of people have no truck with Facebook’s pull.’ File photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

‘A growing number of people have no truck with Facebook’s pull.’ File photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

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Years ago, in a bid to claw back some time for myself, I decided to wave my Facebook profile off on a cyber-funeral pyre. It had become the ultimate time-suckage device. It’s a blizzard of white noise featuring pointless animal videos, “inspirational” Marilyn Monroe quotes, and new parents yammering on about their babies as though they’re spewing Wildean witticisms. Add in the odd passive-aggressive thread argument and the general sense of unease when faced with the highlights reel of every life you know, and I knew that I needed to find a way out of Zuckerberg’s playground.

“Not so fast,” was pretty much Facebook’s first response.

“Look who you will miss out on keeping in touch with,” the screen posited, as photos of my dead mother, an Australian friend and a cousin materialised on it. Algorithm or not, it was a pure masterclass in emotional manipulation. The Facebook profile would go on to live, and annoy, and time-suck, for another while. Suffice to say that when it comes to my relationship with Facebook, it’s complicated.

But a growing number of people have no truck with Facebook’s emotional pull, and according to the trending hashtag #DeleteFacebook, a movement to delete Facebook is rapidly gaining ground. Much of it has to do with Facebook’s handling of the Cambridge Analytica “data harvesting” fiasco (the data firm had gathered info from 50 million Facebook users and used it to target voters during the 2016 US election).

“If you’re angry about what Facebook has done with our data then just #deletefacebook. We all moved on from MySpace, we can move on from Facebook too. Remember, we aren’t the customers, we are the product,” tweeted one user.

Head-wrecking

Yet a lot of the #DeleteFacebook campaign also has to do with the conceit, ringing ever louder, that Facebook’s feed is quite literally wrecking our heads. Academics have found that its bright red notifications and neverending rolling feed (among other features) activates the same centres in the brain as Class-A drugs. Anyone who tended towards neuroticism, narcissism, ruminative behaviour and social comparison were also at risk of increased social anxiety from prolonged use of Facebook.

“I deleted my Facebook account over a year ago and noticed a very real drop in anxiety. I have never been a particularly anxious person and, until then, hadn’t realised how deeply entrenched I had become in what is essentially an addictive game with shit graphics,” tweeted another former user.

Dublin-based writer/musician Dara Higgins deleted Facebook years ago with nary a backward glance.

“Giving up Facebook is like giving up smokes, only less traumatic,” he says. “It is, after all, a website. But it’s about breaking the habit. Five minutes to spare, a cup of tea, just don’t refresh that page. Read a book, check out the news, watch some videos on YouTube. After a while it stops being an automatic thought.

“The downside is people tell me about great gigs they went to that I’ve missed because no one told me they were on. It seems many independent organisations think a Facebook page is advertisement enough. In a digital sense, I’m living in a yurt up a cold hill somewhere so beyond the pale, it doesn’t have a name.

“Facebook wasn’t real. Obviously, it isn’t real. It’s a website. But people, friends, family, were different on it, not like they were in real life, as if it were a distraction. People’s outrage was manufactured, their stupidity seemed forced, their lovely holiday snaps were annoying. The facile virtue signalling grated. Who were they playing to? People don’t speak like that down the pub or at five-a-side. We talk about real things like hangovers, football and the weather.

“It’s not isolating no longer being on FB, because it isn’t real people. Sure, I’m not in contact with Timmy from preschool any more, but you know what, that’s grand. We weren’t that close.”

Lots to lose

We all know what’s to be gained from deleting a Facebook profile, but look closer and you’ll see there’s plenty to lose, too.

When was the last time you remembered a friend’s birthday without a Facebook prompt? Or used an actual mobile number to have a chat with friends across the globe? When was the last time you used Gchat to talk to someone? Or went through your old photo albums to be reminded of a random event nine years ago? When did you realise that – be honest, now – liking a friend’s post became a form of keeping in touch? If you have lived abroad in the last decade, what tethered you to home more than Facebook?

The fact remains that, today, Facebook and its ilk are as close to a community as many of us are likely to get.

For the lonely, the elderly, the incapacitated, and the isolated, Facebook is a social lifeline that they’d be so much worse off without. A friend of mine, living with a young family in Australia, has managed to find a social life through an “Irish Mammies in Perth” group. In fact, the closed/private/secret groups feature of Facebook, where like-minded souls convene and talk with frankness and candour, could well end up becoming Facebook’s eventual saviour.

Some of us don’t do church. We don’t call on our neighbours, and we rush past crowds at the school gates or in yoga class with a polite nod. But we will gladly pile in on a thread about Ireland’s Got Talent, the state of your cooking or #COYBIG. It may not be authentic, face-to-face closeness, but it’s light of spirit, and enough for many of us to feel as though we’re part of something.

That Facebook needs a massive overhaul as a product is a given. The company needs to address core issues around privacy, adverts and cyberbullying, like, yesterday. But I’m not ready to lose the photos, amassed over a decade. I’m not yet ready to cut off the person I met on a boozy night out just the once, before becoming firm Facebook friends. As a freelancer who works alone, I’m not ready to give up the watercooler yet.

Worried about your privacy or data? Head over to the apps settings page on Facebook, where you can look at the apps that you have logged into using Facebook (you can click the “X” to deauthorise them from your account).

For a Marie Kondo’d feed, there’s nothing like spring-cleaning out your group of friends and the pages you previously liked, and perhaps muting your overly enthusiastic aunties or old school friends. It’s possible to control not just who sees your posts, but what posts you see.

Deactivating

If you feel the time is right to leave Facebook, this can be done by going to the help centre on Facebook.com. Facebook will naturally encourage you to go for the “deactivate” option (meaning you can reactivate your account and access your old photos and posts whenever you want). If you deactivate but still want to use Messenger, just check or uncheck the box when they ask you if you’d like to keep Messenger.

But if you mean business, you need to send a deletion request to Facebook. Find the help document entitled: “How do I permanently delete my account?” Clicking on “Let us know” on that page takes users to the account deletion screen.

They will delay your request for a few days (if you log back into Facebook, the request is automatically cancelled). It then takes up to 90 days to delete all your data, stored in backup systems (you can’t get into Facebook at this time).

To keep access to sites that use your Facebook login, like Pinterest, Spotify and Instagram, make sure your connected apps will let you change your form of login before you deactivate your Facebook account.

For users who want to delete all history of their Facebook days but who still want a record of everything they’ve done on the site, Facebook has developed an easy way to download that information. Go to your account settings, click “General” in the left-hand column, then click on “Download a copy of your Facebook data”, and finish by clicking “Start My Archive”.

And whatever you do before pulling the Facebook plug properly, don’t forget to ask for everyone’s numbers. Their birthdays, too.

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