There’s no easy way to quit Facebook. And even if you do, Facebook won’t quit you.
For every smug friend who posts about abandoning the platform after Cambridge Analytica’s massive data breach, there are countless other users who have found it impossible to leave.
Quitting means more than removing the app from your phone, which may curb your personal use but won’t strip Facebook’s ability to collect your data or access information about your life. Quitting means wholesale deleting your Facebook account, or at least deactivating it.
I’m one of the many users who’ve attempted this feat only to come crawling back. I deactivated my account for a total of 72 hours once in 2009, but rejoined when I wanted to look up an old friend’s phone number.
The primary reason most people find staying off Facebook so difficult is the network effect.
Facebook has amassed more than 2 billion monthly users, and for many millennials, it served as our first introduction to social media. Millions of us have maintained accounts since at least high school or college, and our brothers, sisters, parents, and families inevitably followed.
Quitting means missing out on life updates from friends and relatives, on engagements and wedding photos, and all the other big life events that people don’t send cards about anymore, since they figure you’ll see the news on Facebook.
Posting about major events and milestones on social media has become the norm, and opting out of the primary platform where most users conduct that sharing makes it difficult to passively keep up with friends and family, and to fill them in on you. Without the social network, giving and receiving becomes much more proactive, and much more work.
“Without Facebook, you lose the ability to share important updates,” Chelsea Browne, a New Yorker, explained. “A serious health issue brings out so many people who mean well, but the communication can be totally overwhelming in an already overwhelming situation. At least with Facebook, it gives you the ability to push one big notification when you have a few free minutes, instead of spending the entire day responding off and on and reliving all of the stress that comes along with something like that.”
But Facebook isn’t just about keeping up with new life events, it’s also about looking back on your own. Because there’s no quick and easy way to download or export the massive trove of photos and memories many users keep locked up on the platform, deleting Facebook can be like throwing out years of family photo albums.
It also means missing out on in-person events.
More than 650 million people use Facebook events to plan everything from birthday parties to weddings to networking events to casual meetups. Without a Facebook account you’re guaranteed to miss out on at least some events or happening by nature of abstaining from the platform.
No Facebook product has transformed the platform more radically over the past year than Facebook groups. At Facebook’s inaugural Communities Summit last June, Zuckerberg heralded the importance of Facebook Groups and the transformative effect they’ve had on users’ lives.
For the many users whose entire support system lies in these groups, quitting Facebook is not an option. It’s also not an option for the high school, college, or graduate students who are forced to maintain a presence in Facebook Groups in order to participate in classes, class-related discussions, extracurricular activities, or sports leagues.
Ruvim, a marketer based in New York who deleted Facebook for a time between 10th and 11th grade (and who asked that the Beast only use his first name) said that Facebook was integral to his time as a student, especially when he was younger. “In 8th grade I didn’t have a phone at the time, my schoolwork kind of depended on Facebook,” he said. “I had a few classes where we had group projects we were doing at the time and everyone was in a chat, so it was the only way to communicate with everyone.”
Lauren Koehler in Washington, D.C., said that even though she’s not a student anymore, “Facebook lends itself to organizing group projects, or getting more involved and staying up to date with what happens on campus.”
Ephraim Sutherland, a college student, quit Facebook last summer but quickly returned for another reason. “I had to come back to take care of my meme page,” he said. “Whenever I would deactivate my Facebook, everything on the meme page would disappear.”
Even if you ignore Facebook’s ever growing presence in users’ personal and academic lives, there it’s growing influence on the workplace.
Facebook launched it’s own Facebook for Work product in 2016, allowing businesses to create their own mini universes on Facebook. For employees at the thousands of companies that utilize Facebook for Work, opting out of Facebook is also not an option.
Maintaining an active Facebook profile can also play a role in getting hired in the first place.
“I deleted Facebook a while ago, but came back when I realized it was a great way to shape how recruiters view me after they review my resume and want to check me out a little more,” said Ray in Southern California. He said that maintaining a robust profile positively shaped recruiters view of him and played a critical role in helping him find jobs.
“Quitting Facebook was abrupt and rough,” said Patrick McMahon of Washington, D.C. “It made it hard to find a job in my field. I was finishing a Marketing degree at the time and I was applying to ad agencies, all of whom (understandably) wanted to talk about Facebook. Some even asked for your profile as part of your application. My time off Facebook persuaded me—quickly—that getting a job I wanted and participating in American culture at large meant being on Facebook."
Many small businesses, restaurants, and other types of companies have also eschewed the costly process of creating their own website in favor of a simple Facebook page. While most Facebook pages can be viewed publicly by logged out users, reaching out to many businesses directly requires a Facebook Messenger account and occasionally content like photos or menus can be hidden from those without a profile.
Sherri Littlefield said that as an art dealer, maintaining a Facebook account is key to her business. “I work with a large, diverse group of artists, fellow dealers and consultants. Facebook is often the primary mode of communication for some people, and I want to be open to that,” she said. “We have made sales through Facebook and Instagram, we have found artists on these platforms.”
One of the most shocking revelations related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal was just how much data third party apps and developers have access to when a user has logged in via their Facebook account.
Yet life without one-click Facebook login can be tough. Many dating apps like Tinder, for instance, require either a Facebook login or phone number to use the service, and utilizing the latter makes it far more difficult to set up a profile.
“I had signed up for Spotify through my Facebook, so when it was deactivated, I couldn’t get in,” Koehler explained. “I had to make a new account and I lost all my playlists and that was extremely irritating. I still remember the day three years ago that I decided to try to re-created the playlists I had lost that had 1000+ songs on it. It was one of the worst days of my life."
Another sad fact is that even if you don’t maintain an active presence on Facebook, the company still probably has a profile built for you. As Gizmodo reported in 2016, “Behind the Facebook profile you’ve built for yourself is another one, a shadow profile, built from the inboxes and smartphones of other Facebook users. Contact information you’ve never given the network gets associated with your account, making it easier for Facebook to more completely map your social connections.”
Facebook’s presence reaches deep across the web and is impossible to avoid. Even if you do delete your profile, you’ll probably inevitably engage with an ad served via its ad network. Or you’ll become one of the billions of users wrangled into using one of its other products like Instagram, WhatsApp, or Messenger.
In fact, the majority of people The Daily Beast spoke with who deleted Facebook still maintained an active presence on Instagram or used messaging services like WhatsApp or Messenger almost daily.
Even in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations most users, like Ben Theobald in Illinois, seemed resigned to simply accept Facebook as an inescapable part of modern life.
“At this point with this Cambridge Analytica scandal I honestly wonder if anything can be private anymore. In this digital era where we all have to be online to function it seems that it’s impossible for our private information not be given away or breached,” he said. “I mean I guess only option would be like that Christopher McCandless guy and destroy all your private information and go live in the wild. I don’t think that ended very well for him though.”