I spent an absurd amount of time over the 4-day Easter weekend bumbling my way through the process of permanently deleting my Facebook account while saving as much of it as I could for posterity. This second part was important to me, and it’s really not as straightforward as it could be – as far as I can tell there are 6 things you need to do BEFORE requesting that Facebook permanently delete your account to ensure that your data is as protected as it can be, and to make sure you still have access to as much as you can reasonably collect from Facebook before saying goodbye.
I consulted a bunch of different How To articles and videos, went down several dead ends, screwed up (and had to cancel/restart the deletion process) multiple times, etc etc just to get to a place where I genuinely believe I did as much as I was willing to do without running some random script.
To add to the body of knowledge around this topic I decided to write up everything I’ve figured out so far. I sincerely hope this will save you some time and stress! I may be geeky but I’m no Facebook expert, so please please please let me know if I’ve misunderstood or misrepresented anything so I can update this article accordingly.
Good luck! This was a pain in the ass, but if I could do it, so you can you 🙂
Step 1: Download a copy of your Facebook data (and be amazed / disappointed with what you get)
You can read Facebook’s own instructions on how to do this here (Settings > Download a copy of your Facebook data). I’m suggesting you do this before Steps 2 and 3 so that you’ll have a record of all the Apps etc that used to be connected in case this list becomes useful at some point in the future…
So you have an idea what to expect when you download a copy of your Facebook data, here are some of the things that I noticed:
The resulting “download” is in the form of a website, but beware: it is nowhere near a complete, pretty, or easily-navigable replica of your Facebook timeline!
The entire archive was a 217MB zip file for me. I haven’t used Facebook that much, and I’ve gone for long spells with a de-activated account, so I imagine mine is on the small side?). Here’s what the contents of the zip file look like:
Here’s what I discovered in my Facebook download
When you click on the index.htm file in the folder as seen above, your browser will open the downloaded website. Everything in the bullets below refers to what I found in that website; words in bold refer to the navigation links within that website.
Note: you’ll notice I use hedge-y language like “seem” a lot because I didn’t actually take the time to reconcile the entirety of the download against my actual Facebook account.
- My Messages all seem to be there, including all history, gifs, photos…
- My Photos do all seem to be there, but it took me a minute to figure that out because they’re organized in an odd fashion. eg Timeline Photos, Mobile Uploads, Instagram photos, iOS photos, and albums etc are all separated, and none of them actually show up in the timeline view.
- The comments people made on my photos seem to be there, but whether or not my original comment showed up on any photo seems to be inconsistent; sometimes it’s there, sometimes it isn’t. So much for context.
- None of the comment threads associated with my Timeline posts came through – just the original posts themselves.
- Page links that I posted on my Timeline did NOT seem to come through consistently, which bums me out (see the 2nd and 3rd posts below – each one originally included a link). The links that did come through are in the form of an entire URL, not clickable, right in the body of the post… a far cry from the fancy clickable preview that shows up on Facebook (and what I had been hoping for in the downloaded version, oh well).
- YouTube video links I posted on my Timeline did NOT make it through (see the 1st post below, which was a link to this NZ Police recruiting video).
- The original Videos I posted seem to all be there (not very high resolution though).
- The Friends list shows you lists of all your Friends, Received Friend Requests, Declined Friend Requests, Removed Friends, Followees, and something called Friend Peer Group??? No clue what that last one is, but apparently I was in one called “Established Adult Life.” Good to know? It also includes the dates that you became Facebook friends… but none of your friends’ birthdays are there, unfortunately.
- The amount of Contact Info they have is SHOCKING. I go into this in a lot more detail below.
- In the Ads tab, there is a list of Ads Topics (prob generated by my other activity on Facebook? who knows), and a list of “Advertisers with your contact info.” No idea how to handle that, once they’ve gotcha they’ve gotcha I reckon 😦 Interestingly, there’s also an Ads History section and if I’m reading it correctly, it appears that in all my 10 year history on Facebook, I only once clicked on an ad?
- There doesn’t seem to be anything at all related to Groups anywhere in the download.
Downloaded Facebook Contacts
Facebook apparently kept a more complete address book of people, email addresses, phone numbers, etc (ones I can recognize, and plenty that I didn’t, eek) than I do myself… must be because they scraped as much data as they could from my address books for every single Gmail account I ever associated with FB??? No clue but it’s enough to freak a person out! Seriously, I have NO idea who half these people are, and this is no exaggeration – we’re talking HUNDREDS. Were these people cc’ed on a group email that I also received via a Gmail account I once had connected to my Facebook account? Did I email some of them customer service requests (there are a lot of “customer-care-type contacts)? Did some of them email me newsletters? Were we all in some massive Google group together? How the random phone numbers got in there I can’t fathom.
Your downloaded list of Applications
And then there’s an Applications section, which shows you which applications you’ve let connect to Facebook at some point or another.
Which leads me to…
Step 2: Disconnect all Applications (AKA games, programs, websites, networks, etc) from Facebook
Step 2a: Take a look at the list of all Apps you’ve connected to Facebook
You can see this either from your Facebook download under the Applications link (see my list above), or in Facebook > Settings > Apps [this and all subsequent attempts to guide you toward the settings in question refer to the browser version of Facebook, not the mobile app or mobile browser versions].
At some point, you either connected Facebook to all these apps so that you could find your friends there (Spotify and Quora, for instance), play games with them (Words with Friends?), OR maybe you used them to actually authenticate the process of logging in (Airbnb, Instagram, Meetup).
Step 2b: Figure out which apps you still want to use independently from Facebook
A brief aside: I’ve heard from a lot of people who are saying they still want to use Instagram. Just so everyone is clear on this: Instagram is owned by Facebook. That said, it is not the same company… you can decide how you feel about that and how you want to proceed. I’m in the process of archiving and deleting my Instagram account as well, and will write up my experience with that, too. Stay tuned 🙂
Step 2c: Log into each one of the apps that you still want to use, disconnect Facebook within their settings, and make sure you have another way to log in (eg, use an email address and password)
If you don’t do this, and you accidentally try to log into some website using Facebook, I read somewhere that Facebook registers this as an attempt to log into Facebook itself, and therefore will cancel your request to delete your account… gah.
From what I’ve seen some common apps that might be problematic for people in terms of needing Facebook authentication to log in are Tinder, Venmo, and Airbnb, so if you use any of those, just make sure you’ll still be set even without using Facebook to log in.
For those apps that you don’t want to use independently from Facebook, consider logging in to each of them and formally deleting your account with them, too, if you really want to close up any potential future personal data sharing and/or leaks (too late?).
Step 3: Delete all your apps in Facebook
Facebook’s instructions for removing all your apps and games are here (Settings > Apps > Click “x” next to each app). I’m not totally sure why this is necessary, but lots of articles suggested it, so I’m either repeating and spreading fake news paranoia and wasting 45 seconds of your time, OR I’m saving your data from spreading farther than it already has…?
Step 4: Turn OFF the Facebook setting that allows Apps, Websites, and Games to connect to your account.
Facebook’s instructions for doing this are here (Settings > Apps > Apps, Websites and Games > Edit button > Turn Off).
Step 5 (Optional): Download, copy, or request stuff that’s not in the Facebook download
I had already requested that Facebook delete my account when it occurred to me that there were some photos that my friends had posted that I wanted to save. So I logged in again (at the moment, you can cancel the deletion process up until at least 14 days after initially requesting deletion) so I could find and download anything keepsake-worthy.
A few days later I realized there were some other things I wanted to exhume from Groups. And… and…
My hope in writing this section is that you’ll be able to figure out what’s important to you BEFORE you request your account deletion, and then have to cancel it, and make the deletion request again… multiple times like I did.
Step 5a: Message friends to tell them you’re deleting your Facebook account, and make sure you have their best contact info (and/or birthdays)
I didn’t bother doing telling everyone via Facebook that I’m deleting my account because I plan to spam them all with a bcc email with an update, including this news. And when it comes to making sure you know how to contact your friends after you’ve deleted your account,
you’re probably covered between the 1-5 email addresses Facebook gives you for each person (?!!!).[***18 September 2018 Update: just discovered that the Facebook data download does NOT include contact information for Facebook friends unless you already had their contact info in any email accounts that you connected to Facebook, so you need to go through some version of what I did in the paragraph below to make sure you know how to get in touch with people you’re only connected to via Facebook!***]
That said, before I had realized just how much contact info was in the Facebook download, I did go through a rather cumbersome process in an effort to make sure I could stay in touch: I scrolled through my entire list of Facebook friends and comparing that to contact info I had in Gmail, which let me identify about 17 people that I had no idea how to contact outside of Facebook. Then I sent each of them a personal message (via Facebook Messenger) that included some version of the following: “I’m in the process of deleting my Facebook account / I still want to stay in touch because you’re awesome for xyz reasons / is email@example.com still the best email for you? / here’s my personal email address, please let me know — via email — how to keep in touch!” I heard back from some via Messenger (that is, before I had deleted my account), some via email (including several who said they tried to respond via Messenger and couldn’t because my account was no longer available), and some I may just never hear from…
but if I really want to reach them, I’ll try one of the emails listed for them in the Facebook download.[***there were no such emails in the download, per the above update.***]
Re birthdays: I personally don’t worry too much about keeping track of my friends’ birthdays (sorry, friends who value that sort of thing) so I didn’t actually bother asking for birthday details. But I did read at least one article that pointed out that this info is missing, so birthday details are something else you might want to either grab from your friends’ profiles before you delete your Facebook account, or just ask your friends somehow.
Step 5b: Find and download any photos or videos* that OTHER people have posted that you might want in your own collection
Rather than try to comb through ten years’ worth of my current friends’ feeds and albums, I decided to limit through any photos or videos that I was tagged in. You can see those through your Activity Log (go to your profile page > click Activity Log at the bottom right of your cover image > Click Photos and Videos in the left column navigation > Photos You’re Tagged In).
I couldn’t figure out an easier way to do this other than to scroll through the whole mess > Open each photo I wanted to save in a new tab > Click into it > Hover the cursor over the photo > Options > Download. I also renamed each photo with the date so I would know where to file it away later. Note: some photos didn’t have the option to download, I don’t know why.
*Downloading other people’s videos is MUCH more complicated than downloading their photos. Thank goodness there was only one I wanted to save (my impression of the lead singer of Chk Chk Chk… Gold!) because for all my attempts to use Googled-up-solutions, I couldn’t get anything to work (from a Chrome browser on my Macbook, if you’re interested in that level of detail). Finally resorted to asking Scott to help me, and after much experimenting on his PC he got to a situation where right-clicking on the video DID give him the option to download. Even then, the video was super low quality. Good luck and lemme know what you figure out.
Step 5c: Grab anything you (or anyone else) may have posted in Groups.
The third time I cancelled the Facebook deletion process it was to see if I could recover some things I posted in a Facebook Group ages ago that I thought I might want to repurpose for another post… Warning: I quickly gave up on this process as I couldn’t figure out a way to easily scroll back through years of stuff to find what I had posted. I hope what you’re looking for is more recent 🙂
Step 6: Log out from / uninstall the Facebook AND Messenger apps and/or Facebook account details from any devices where you may have used them
Now I’m assuming that if you want to permanently delete your Facebook account, you will also want to stop using Messenger. If for some reason you still really do want to use Messenger without a Facebook account, apparently you can… but seriously, why?
I haven’t had an iPhone in a while but I seem to recall that there used to be a way to add your Facebook account in the settings? Not sure if that’s still a thing but if it is, check your settings and make sure you delete all account info lest your phone continue logging you in
Step 7: Request that Facebook permanently delete your account.
Facebook’s description of what this means, and the link to make the request are here.
Surprise surprise: the actual link is very hard to see – it’s hyperlinked where the text above reads “let us know.” But let’s make it easier, shall we? Here is the direct link, which will take you to this screen:
If you click the Delete My Account button, in the next modal you’ll have to enter your Facebook password and THE most indecipherable “I’m not a robot” type code I’ve ever encountered. In the three times I’ve now gone through this process (I canceled the deletion once to download photos I was tagged in, and once to get the screenshots in this article), I’ve yet to successfully enter the code correctly on the first go… oh, and of course the default button is Cancel, not OK, because: they realllllllly don’t want to make this easy for you.
Persist, persist, you will eventually get through!
Step 8: Clear your browsing history / cache on all browsers on all your devices
Not really sure if this is necessary but why not? Can’t really do this often enough, right?
Step 9: DO NOT log into Facebook again for 14 days (or Do, if you want to get back in for any reason)
If you use your email and password to log back in to Facebook within the next 14 days, you’ll have the option to cancel the deletion process.
Click to Confirm deletion, of course, and then Log Out.
Note: as I mentioned in Step 2c above, I did read in a couple places that if you have accidentally left Facebook authentication on for any connected app, it’s possible that the app will log in to your Facebook account for you and cancel the deletion process. I have no idea if this is true, but that’s why I included all the parts of Step 2 – Just In Case.
If you do log back in and cancel the deletion process for whatever reason, and re-request deletion of your account, the 14-day clock starts ticking again.
I’m still waiting for those 14 days to elapse so I’m not really sure what will happen after that.
In the meantime, here’s what the people I was friends with before requesting that Facebook permanently delete my account can currently see:
- My name still shows up in people’s friend lists, but there’s no profile image and if you try to click through or send me a message, they get a pop-up modal thingie saying that my account has been de-activated. (Which is kind of not entirely true as there’s a big difference between de-activating your account and requesting that it be permanently deleted, but maybe this message will change after the waiting period is up?)
- Searching for my name in Facebook’s search field doesn’t bring up my name in the auto-complete suggestions, and even if you type my name completely it doesn’t return a result.
- All my Messenger history is still available to whomever I had any interactions with using Messgenger (Facebook is clear that this will happen) but people can’t message me anymore.
- For multi-person message threads, the rest of people in the thread can still send messages to each other… and other than the fact that my name and profile photo are now blank in the messages I had previously sent, they won’t have any idea that I’m not receiving their messages.
Phew. That’s it. Again, good luck, and let me know how things go!
UPDATE – 5 April 2018 – Added sections 5a and 5c, the bits about birthdays and Groups in the Facebook download section, made it clearer that I don’t know why you should delete all apps.
UPDATE – 18 September 2018 – Added the clarification about Facebook not necessarily giving you contact information for your Friends in the data download.