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Quitting Facebook

Some people resist joining Facebook precisely because of the popular misconception that once you set up a Facebook profile, you can never remove your information. I have one friend who starts singing the lyrics from “Hotel California” (you can check out any time you like/but you can never leave) anytime the word Facebook is mentioned.

So in case you’re afraid of being assigned a permanent residence at the Hotel Facebook (and having an Eagles song stuck in your head for all eternity), I’m going to tell you exactly how to pack up and leave Facebook if you ever decide you need to.

There’s usually a kernel of truth behind any popular misconception. And in this case it’s true that, technically speaking, you can’t expunge your Facebook profile itself without going to the trouble of contacting Facebook and waiting for them to get around to complying with your request.

But it doesn’t necessarily matter. Because what you can do anytime you want is delete any and all of the information in your profile, leaving a blank space behind where it used to be. And then you can cause your profile to disappear from search listings, so that nobody can find their way to the empty husk that used to hold your information. At which point, who cares if the hollowed-out profile itself is still sitting on Facebook’s servers?

There are basically three ways to leave Facebook:

  1. Deactivating temporarily. If you choose this option, you’ll vanish from Facebook for the time being, but the door will be open if you want to come back at some point in the future.

    To temporarily deactivate your Facebook account: Go to Settings > Account Settings and click the Deactivate link. Fill out the form letting Facebook know why you’re deactivating, and then click the Deactivate button to confirm.

  2. Permanently deleting your account. If you choose this option, you’ll be submitting a request to Facebook to permanently remove your profile from Facebook. This step is not reversible (that’s why it’s called “permanent”).

    To erase your Facebook account forever, click Help in the footer, and then type Delete in the Help Center’s search field. Click “I want to permanently delete my account” on the results page, read the instructions, and click the link to the Delete Account form.

  3. The manual scrub. If you really want to remove all your traces from Facebook, you can delete all of your profile info yourself before you submit your deactivation or deletion request, and set all of your privacy controls to the max as described earlier in the “Keeping a Low Profile” section.

    This step isn’t technically necessary, but it might give you some extra satisfaction to know that all of your data has been wiped away before you shut down your profile. And it won’t matter if it takes Facebook a while to process your permanent removal, because you’ll know your information is already gone.

Once you’ve cleaned up your campsite, you can go ahead and choose permanent deletion as described in option 2.

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