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Thinking about breaking up with Facebook? Here's what you need to know

The social media giant has given many users pause this past year. Leaving the platform can be tough, however.
Image: A man walks past a mural in an office on the Facebook campus
A man walks past a mural in an office on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, California, on June 11, 2014.Jeff Chiu / AP file

Heidi Henry always had mixed emotions about Facebook. Joining about a decade ago, it didn’t take long before she started to have misgivings about the platform. From the annoying — remember "Farmville"? — to the obvious highlight reel many people share, the platform began to get under her skin. But this past October, she made the move that a growing number of Facebook users are considering: she deactivated her account.

There was no final straw for Henry, but rather a steady climb to overall disenchantment. “For better or worse, I recognized that I had created an echo chamber on Facebook,” says the 35-year old from Phoenix. “It’s not the right way to go through life.”

According to a Pew Research study, about four in 10 adult Facebook users have taken a break from checking the platform for several weeks or more, and about a quarter have deleted the app from their phones at some point in the last year. From the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the latest Russian influence news and data leaks, people are starting to reconsider continuing with the platform.

The political arguing and ads were making me ill, and the stunt of manipulating content creeped me out.

For some, this is a very good idea, as research has tied Facebook usage to depression in some cases. “Some people hang their hats on the number of likes they get on Facebook and when they don’t get the immediate response they expect, they feel bad,” says study author Mai-Ly N. Steers, PhD, a post-doc fellow at the University of Houston. “It becomes problematic when you hinge your self esteem on it.”

This wasn’t the case for Diane Parrish, but she did feel its negatives outweighed the positives. The 66-year-old retiree was early to the trend of abandoning Facebook, deleting her account a few years ago. “It was a time suck,” Parrish says. “The political arguing and ads were making me ill, and the stunt of manipulating content creeped me out.”

Both Parrish and Henry left the platform cold turkey, rather than easing off in incremental steps, and neither have regretted it. If you’re considering leaving Facebook — perhaps as a New Year’s resolution — you might be surprised to learn it’s not always a straightforward process. But if you’re like Henry or Parrish, you might find whatever steps necessary are well worth the time.

How to break up with Facebook for good

If you’ve had a Facebook account for a number of years, you may not realize exactly how far its tendrils extend into other areas of your life. Before you can free yourself of the platform, you must first understand what you will and won’t lose by deleting your account.

1. Check to see if you have other accounts that use your Facebook credentials

One of the biggest secondary impacts of leaving Facebook is the potential to lose accounts on other platforms. Over the years, it’s likely you have taken the easy route when creating these accounts and signed in with Facebook. If so, you stand to lose all those accounts when deleting Facebook.

“Most of us have created an account through Facebook at one time or another,” says Scott Ewart, consultant and owner of ScottE Software Development in Columbia, Md. “Before deleting Facebook, you need to do a check on this.”

Ewart says that by going into your settings on Facebook, you can go through the apps section and determine which of them might be impacted. “Then you can go to each of these accounts and create new user log-ins,” he says. “I go in and clean this up periodically regardless.”

2. Figure out what you want to save

Once you’ve taken that step, you might want to consider what you’d like to save from your account. For instance, photos, old posts, videos, and details in your “about” section — anything you’ve shared with others — stands to be lost once you’ve hit delete. Facebook will generate a copy of your personal archive, but it’s up to you to save it. Use the “Download Your Information” tool from settings to accomplish this. Once complete, the platform will email a link to you.

According to a Pew Research study, about four in 10 adult Facebook users have taken a break from checking the platform for several weeks or more.

While you have to take steps to save items posted on Facebook, you should also be aware that you will be leaving “shadows” behind. If you’ve sent messages to friends, for instance, they may survive deletion.

3. Afraid to cut the cord? Pare down what you see

You don’t have to go all in right away if you’re mulling over the idea of leaving Facebook. A good first step can be shutting off push notifications, for instance. “Notifications can have a very Pavlovian response,” says Steers, “so it’s often smart to remove them.”

Henry’s first step was to take the app off her phone about a year ago, another option to step down your usage.

Ewart says you can also unfriend all but a small number of close friends and relatives to cut down on the clutter in your feed. “The downside is that sponsored ads will still make it through,” he points out.

If you want to give a Facebook-free life a test run, try deactivating your account like Henry did. No one will be able to search for you or see your timeline, but you can still use Messenger and you can reactivate your account at any time.

4. Before you delete, consider what it will mean

If you do go all in, once you’ve hit the delete button, you will have 30 days before it becomes permanent, giving you time to reconsider. This is a good time to weigh if there’s anything you’re missing without the platform in your life.

Because there are so few alternatives right now, deleting a Facebook account can definitely have an impact on your life, and living without it may take some effort. “Facebook has made it too easy,” says Ewart. “Until someone comes up with a viable alternative, we’re stuck.”

Both Henry and Parrish say they’re happy they've taken steps to disconnect, however. “Sometimes I miss it for spreading the word about fundraising or for the easy connecting with old acquaintances,” says Parrish, “but my husband still uses Facebook, so he does the word-spreading.”

Henry enjoyed following her immediate family on the platform and misses that, but because she deactivated instead of deleted, she still uses Messenger in those cases. “My brother sends me photos of my nephews,” she says, “and I can always pick up the phone if I want. There are so many other ways to go about it.”

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