Social media can be a harmless and easy way to keep track of friends, family and news.
It also can be addictive and invasive and produce an archive of bad behavior that can damage relationships or make it hard to get a new job. And, of course, there are privacy worries compounded by a controversial Facebook experiment unearthed recently that turned unwitting users into emotionally manipulated guinea pigs.
That last one might prompt some people to leave Facebook permanently. Or not – it wasn’t exactly the first time Facebook has done something that made some users swear off the service.
So is quitting social media the new thing in social media? That’s hard to say. But if you are planning to go dark, there are plenty of ways to do it.
Typically, people deactivate their Facebook accounts rather than deleting them – a bit like a couple taking a “break” rather than breaking up.
When you deactivate (by visiting Settings, Security, and clicking Deactivate your account), your profile disappears and you are untagged from photos and other people’s posts. But all your data and your profile remain on Facebook, and you can reactivate anytime. One option you can choose when deactivating, in fact, is: “This is temporary. I’ll be back.”
Of course, people deactivate rather than delete because it is so hard to delete Facebook accounts. To delete, you must search the Web for “delete Facebook account” or visit www.facebook.com/help/delete_account.
Once you reach the Help page, you must request deletion of your account; but make sure you download your profile before you do that. Visit Settings, then General, then click the link that says, Download a copy of your Facebook data.
Your profile includes not only your posts, photos, videos and other valuable digital trinkets, but also a detailed history of everything you have ever done on Facebook. You will see ads you have clicked, how you are being targeted, every time you have logged into Facebook and from which IP addresses, the facial recognition data Facebook uses to recognize you in pictures, and quite a lot more.
That will most likely rush you toward the Delete button. Once you request deletion, your data may hang around on Facebook’s servers for about 90 days and then, Facebook assures me, will be gone forever.
Twitter has fewer dramatic exits. People simply sign up for the service and then drift away, usually because they don’t know what to do when they get there. Or they fail to gather any followers or just fail to find any interesting content. That is happening a lot more than it used to. According to Twitter’s earnings announcement in April, the service’s growth had slowed and people were refreshing their feeds less often than in the previous quarter.
For those who do quit Twitter in grand fashion, it is usually because of a terrible mistake, like the one made by a former New York public relations executive who posted a supremely tasteless tweet about AIDS in South Africa before boarding a flight to that country, and discovered after she landed that she had lost her job and reputation.
If you want to stay on social media, there are better ways to control your messages. One concept is to make posts ephemeral – that is, self-destructing after a certain period of time – in the style of Snapchat.
A new app called Xpire (iOS only) purports to let you create self-destructing tweets and Facebook posts, so you don’t have to worry that your intemperate words will come back to haunt you. You can set posts to expire in increments of minutes, hours, days, weeks, even months or a full year. I would not be too free with the expiring posts, though.
When I tried the app, I had a 50 percent expiration rate on Twitter. One post lived on, to the amusement of my followers. The second post disappeared as ordered, and even vanished from third-party Twitter apps like TweetDeck. However, I could not get posts to appear on Facebook at all, despite multiple attempts with multiple time settings. Xpire’s creator, Jesse Stauffer, said an update was coming to fix the bug.
In short, the app is new enough that I do not recommend it wholeheartedly, but I like the concept.
What I really liked about Xpire was the ability to search for specific tweets from the past and delete them. This worked fine when I tried it. It’s a useful feature if you regret something you have said about an ex, an employer or an embarrassing TV habit (“So You Think You Can Dance,” ahem).
Unfortunately, Xpire cannot do the same with a Facebook feed because of limits on what Facebook allows outside developers to do with the news feed.
The app also will let you delete your previous tweets so you can start fresh with the same user name. However, Twitter lets third-party apps delete only 3,200 tweets at a time, so you will have to remove them in separate chunks.
If you are on Android, an app called DLTTR accomplishes the same thing, and TweetDelete lets you delete tweets in a Web interface.
Facebook also offers some controls for tidying up your history, including the Use Activity Log, which you can find under the Privacy section of Settings. Here, you can review individual photos and posts you have been tagged in, and remove yourself if necessary.
If you are worried about things you might have publicly posted in the past, click the Limit Past Posts link in the Privacy settings. That tool is blunt: It simply limits everything you have ever posted to your default option (Friends, Public and other settings). If you want to change permissions on specific posts or even delete them, you have to find them individually. At best, it’s a tedious process.
For many users, the distractions, manipulations and targeted ads of social media are still worth it for keeping up with friends and family. But it’s still wise to exercise control over your social media history, even if quitting is too radical a step in this connected world.