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How to quit Facebook (if the time suck, Russian ads and personal data problems have become too much)

It’s not as impossible as you might think.

There are many valid reasons you might want to quit Facebook. Maybe you spend too much time there. Maybe you’re tired of its cluttered app. Maybe you’re unnerved by all the Russia stuff, or the recent news that Facebook allowed data company Cambridge Analytica to access the data of 50 million users with their permission.

I was an avid Facebook user for more than a decade. But due to a combination of the reasons above, I’ve almost completely quit Facebook over the past three weeks. No surprise, I have been much happier for it.

Whatever your reasons, if you want to quit Facebook, here’s how to do it.

“But I just can’t quit Facebook!”

We’ve all heard this from people in our lives: People who use Facebook constantly, but aren’t really happy about it. Since its early days, when the platform was wired directly into the social scene of colleges across the country, Facebook has made itself feel like a utility, a mandatory extension of our real-world social lives.

Even after more than a month thinking about quitting Facebook, I haven’t been able to completely disentangle myself from the Zuckerverse: My Facebook account is still active — just in case, I tell myself — and I still use Facebook Messenger and Instagram every day.

Whether you’re planning to keep your account, as I did, or delete it entirely, this guide has you covered. Read on.

Step One: Look Over Your Friends

If you use Facebook regularly, your News Feed is probably filled with people who mean different things to you: Everyone from dear family members to old school buddies to someone you think you met at a bar two years ago?

If you’re planning to keep your Facebook account, go to this page for “Friend Lists” and click on the one called “Close Friends,” denoted by a gold star in a white box. Using the box on the right, add the people who really matter to you, the ones whose life updates you’d still like to see. This will be important later in Step Three.

If you’re planning to delete your account, go directly to your “Friends” page (https://www.facebook.com/[USERNAME]/friends) and scroll through to see if there’s anyone you’ve friended for whom you don’t have another form of contact: No email, no phone, etc. If you want to be able to reach them later, now’s a good time to ping them and get that info.

Step Two: Get a Backup

Whether you’re planning to keep or delete your account, do this: Go to the “General” tab of your Facebook settings. Toward the bottom of the options, below “Manage Account,” there should be a link to “Download a copy of your Facebook data.” Click it. You may need to re-enter your password.

From there, you’ll be able to download a full archive of your posts, comments, message history, events you’ve attended, friends’ phone numbers and other activity (see this article for a full list of what is in everyone’s archive).

Also not surprisingly, this is a lot of data, and it will take a few minutes for Facebook to package it all up and send it to you. I clicked the download link 11:47 am on Friday and received the email to download my data at 11:57 am, but your mileage may vary. The resulting download of all my activity since December 2006 was 257 megabytes.

The link Facebook emails you is only promised to work “for a few days after being sent,” so go ahead and download it once you see it.

Step Three: Check Your Notifications

If you’re planning to delete your account, you can skip the next two steps. Meet me down in Step Five.

If you’re planning to keep your account, now’s a good time to review your “Notifications” settings. Here, you’ll see four options: Facebook, Email, Mobile and Text message. We’ll go through them one by one.

Facebook notifications options for how to delete your account

Under “Facebook,” you can choose what notifications will show up when you click on the globe in the top-right corner of the screen. As a cowardly not-quite-quitter, this is an important group of settings for me; I deleted the main Facebook app from my phone, but I drop in occasionally on Facebook.com to check these notifications the way one might check a secondary email address.

Whether you want to continue to be reminded of their birthdays is up to you, but I’d recommend turning on “Close Friends activity,” which will notify you of new status updates and photos by the Close Friends you identified in Step One. I’d also recommend leaving Tag notifications on, so that you can see at a glance if anyone is trying to get your attention on Facebook.

Under “Email,” in the first set of three options, select “Only notifications about your account, security and privacy.” Facebook will ask you to confirm that yes, you don’t want to receive emails designed to make you want to come back to Facebook. Click “Turn Off.”

The “Mobile” panel is mostly useless, pointing you instead to these instructions for adjusting your Facebook mobile app’s notification settings on iOS or Android. I deleted the app altogether, which was a real nifty time-saver.

Under “Text message,” click the “Off” button and then “Save Changes.”

Step Four: See Who Still Has Your Data

This is another one for the keep-ers. In your “Apps” settings, you can see which outside companies currently have access to your Facebook data, because you’ve logged into their services with Facebook. I was unnerved to see just how many sites and apps were on this list for me, some of which I had only used once.

There’s no two ways around it: Pruning this list is a pain in the ass. For each of those companies that you want to banish, you have to click an “X” next to their name and then the “Remove” button to confirm your choice. But, I put on some music and then did this over ... and over ... and over.

I did keep several of the apps, however, because I still log in to them with my active Facebook account. For any app or site that you keep, you can click the pencil next to their names to deny them access to info they don’t need to operate, such as your list of friends. As far as I can tell, there is no way to do this en masse, which is impressively annoying.

Step Five: Tell Your Friends

Welcome back, delete people. This one is for both you and keep-ers.

No matter how thorough you think your “Close Friends” list is, it’s probably good etiquette to tell all your friends that you’re planning to leave. I did this for my friends through a status update explaining some of my reasons for checking out, and sharing the other ways they would be able to contact me in the future. I started my final status with the words “Important announcement” because I had a hunch that those are some of the magic words that fool the Facebook algorithm into weighting posts more heavily.

If you’re planning to delete your Facebook account entirely, you should post this final status one to two weeks before you actually delete it, to give people time to see what you wrote before it vanishes.

Step Six: Delete Your Account

Okay, delete crew, this one is exclusively for you. Go back to your “General” settings and click on the last option above the backup link we used in Step Two, “Manage Account.” Now you have two options: If you think there’s still a chance you might want to resurrect your Facebook account in the future, click on the link near the bottom, “Deactivate your account.”

But if you are 100 percent ready to cut the cord, visit this page instead. From there, you can request that Facebook permanently wipe out your account and any content associated with it.

Step Seven: Move On

Facebook does a lot for its users — so many things, in fact, that I’m not going to bother listing all its features here. But since I wound down my Facebook account, I’ve been replacing what it used to do for me in the following ways. This is by no means a universal guide, just what has worked for one person:

News: Instead of reading the News Feed, I’ve been reading ... wait for it ... actual news. I pay for subscriptions to several newspapers and magazines, but that’s not an option for everyone. If you’d like to keep up with the news for free without relying on a social feed, email newsletters are your new best friend. Some personal favorites include the Washington Post newsletters, Axios Login, NextDraft, CNN’s Reliable Sources and — of courseRecode Daily:

Photos: I’ve been out of college long enough that I have to think for a second to remember how many years it’s been, which officially makes me old. It also means that I’m taking fewer photos that I want to share with, say, a group of friends but not my parents. But, when I do have pictures that I want to share with a small group of people and not the entire world on Instagram, I’ve found the sharing features on Google Photos to be powerful and easy to use.

Status Updates: This is the hardest part of Facebook to recreate elsewhere, and so I haven’t tried. Instead, when I have a thought that I might have once shared on Facebook, I instead think, “Who would most appreciate this?” and tell it to that person or group of people. And if I think about it for a second and realize no one would appreciate me saying something, then I keep it to myself. You know, sort of like the way you might have socialized in the before-Facebook times.

I am pleased to report that all of that still works.

This article was originally published on October 22, 2017.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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