After 10 years, I am finally leaving Facebook. I created my account, like so many others, because my friends were using it. Compared to other social networks at the time (who have now mostly ceased to exist) Facebook’s sleek look, global outreach and better functionality didn’t disappoint. I was able to easily stay in touch with friends I made abroad, plan events, and share photos and music videos - which were all rather new features at the time. In my mind, the things I shared were just for me and my friends to see. Little did I know what impact the trails of information I left behind over the years could have.
A decade later, my views on Facebook have changed quite dramatically. When I realised that my friends’ status updates were filtered out in favour of sponsored ads and recommendations that are eerily tailored towards what I ‘liked’ or looked at on other websites, I felt increasingly watched, manipulated and exploited. What exactly was Facebook doing with my information? Who else knew about my political views, shopping habits and who my friends were? A few days ago, a whistleblower claimed that a company called Cambridge Analytica acquired and exploited the data of 50million Facebook users in attempt to influence the outcome of the US presidential election in 2016. This case finally paints a crystal clear picture of how social media companies exploit our information – and even influence the societies we live in - for profit.
It’s clear to me: enough is enough. I am deleting my account.
However, with this decision came practical issues I had to consider before saying ‘goodbye’. For those joining the Facebook exodus, these tips might help you too.
Let people know
I sent personal messages to everyone I wanted to stay in touch with, to ask for their contact details. It was a good way to reconnect with people I like a lot, but haven’t spoken to in a while. At first, sending a message to everyone you know sounds like a lot of work, but I quickly realised that at least 90% of the people I was ‘friends’ with weren’t that important to me in the first place. I doubt that I will suddenly miss the mean girl from school or that random guy I spoke to at a house party for 5 minutes. However, in the unlikely event that someone from the 90% wants to get in touch I also left a post with my email address.
Find other ways to follow events, news, brands and shops you like
It might be convenient to discover events and brands through Facebook since tailored recommendations, based on what users liked or attended before, are continuously presented. However, there are other simple ways to follow organisations or venues you like. I’ve just planned my next few weeks ahead by checking the websites of organisations and venues I’m interested in, and I’ve signed up to a few newsletters of the Facebook groups I was a member of like my local Friends of the Earth group. Signing up to newsletters and doing this research was a little burdensome, but it felt better than following what an algorithm presented to me.
Don’t leave without a copy of your profile
Of course, downloading a copy of your information won’t delete the data you have already given to Facebook, but it’s nice to keep conversations and photos as a memory. It’s also pretty creepy to see how much information you’ve shared. To get your data, log into your Facebook account (on a computer, not your phone), click the Account drop down menu and select Settings. On General Account settings at the very bottom you can find the option to ‘download a copy of your Facebook data’. The duration of the download will depend on how much you have shared. My download was ready after about an hour.
Preparing for the deletion of my account took a surprising amount of work and time– getting rid of Facebook definitely requires more than just clicking a ‘delete’ button - and the company does what it can to keep you plugged in. There is no direct link for deletion on the Manage Your Account page. You have to click on ‘Learn more’ under the Deactivate Your Account section and click through the slides until you finally arrive at the Help Centre where you can submit your request.
Of course, it can feel intimidating to be confronted with years of your digital life; it definitely did to me, but realising that I don’t need Facebook to take care of my friendships is a very liberating experience.
Go on, delete your Facebook account. You’ll be surprised how little you’ll miss it.