12-Step Program to Quit Facebook for Good
Over this past Christmas, I went back to my hometown for the holidays. While there, I attended a holiday Christmas party full of people who I hadn’t seen in the five years since I moved away. Over the course of the evening, close to a dozen people (no exaggeration here) came up to me and said something to the tune of,
“I can’t believe you managed to stay off Facebook. It’s unbelievable; I wish I could do that.”
By the time the night was over, I had lost track of how many friends and acquaintances expressed this emotion to me, and the awe they experienced knowing I had deleted my Facebook account more than three years ago (in October 2015) and never gone back to the platform.
And so, on Facebook’s 15th anniversary, I thought I’d share the process of how I left, and stayed away, from the social networking behemoth.
As a millennial in her early 30s, I was one of the first cohorts of people to get a Facebook account back in 2006 and had been a casual user for most of the nine years I was on the platform. But then, around the time of the 2015 Canadian federal election when Trudeau won, I started to see how hateful and dangerous Facebook had become. I bowed out the day Justin Trudeau was sworn in as Prime Minister and managed to avoid the shitshow that was the 2016 US Presdential election the following year.
I’m not going to talk about any of the well-documented negative effects Facebook (and social media at large) have on our mental wellbeing, relationships, and self-image. Instead, I’m going to lay out, step-by-step, how you can cut out Facebook from your life and social media needs over time. I didn’t quit social media altogether, nor do I want to. Facebook in particular seems to be the worst offender around and many people point at wanting to get away from it specifically.
The first thing I’ll say is this: it’s almost impossible to successfully quit Facebook cold turkey. If you deactivate your account in a fit of anger or frustration, you’ll most definitely come back to the same insanity you ran away from after you’ve had a cooling off period. It’s not a long-term solution in moving away from the platform.
So, with all that being said, here is the 12-step process (with average time frames you’ll need to spend on each step) to maximize your chances of successfully leaving behind Facebook and regaining the magic of what life was like before everyone was yelling on it at everyone else.
Step 1: Acceptance (4–6 weeks)
Admit to yourself that Facebook is an unhealthy part of your life and you don’t want to be a part of it anymore. You don’t have to do anything at this stage; you only have to allow yourself to fully embrace and accept your decision to not have Facebook in your life.
This step is not to be taken lightly. Think of how long you’ve been on it, everything you’ve shared with your network, all that you’ve revealed about yourself. You have a bond, a dependence on the platform, and if you don’t want to relapse, you have to be fully aware of what you’re doing. This is the first step in taking back control. You have to regain control over your mind and your decisions before you can do anything else.
Think about your decision daily — when you’re in the shower, commuting to work, or before going to bed. Allow the decision to fully take hold in your subconscious. You can still use Facebook during this time, but if you accept this decision and give it time to settle in your mind, you’ll notice the time you spend on Facebook will automatically start to decrease over the following weeks.
Step 2: Understand your social media needs (2–4 weeks)
Give yourself space and time to truly understand what it is you seek from social media. For me, there were two things that I needed from Facebook: news updates and sharing pictures. I started to see that I didn’t really need to read or write diary entry length posts about my feelings or opinions on various topics. Eventually, I started a blog where I would write in-depth opinions on whatever I wanted (movies, music, food, travel, etc).
I was a visual person — I liked taking photographs and sharing them, and I liked seeing other people’s pictures of travel and food and the occasional personal photo here and there. Beyond these two things, Facebook only served to worsen my anxiety about the state of the world and the (seemingly) inevitable collapse of civilization. I didn’t need those feelings of dread and existential angst. I just needed to know what some of my friends were doing in life, and very limited news stories to keep me in the loop of global affairs.
I could only understand these things once I disengaged from Facebook and started observing it as a passive, rather than an active user. Once you accept you’re leaving, you can begin to observe how logging on to Facebook and consuming what you see affects you.
Step 3: Explore other social media networks (1–2 weeks)
Once I figured out what I really wanted from social media, I started exploring other options for how I could get those things off Facebook. One of the great things Facebook was able to do was amalgamate everything we could ever want from the internet in one place. In my experience, a little bit of fragmentation and separation is healthy, even necessary, when dealing with the internet.
I started a Twitter account and only followed news sources there. I didn’t want to treat my Twitter account as a personal space for friends and family. It was for me to log into when I wanted to catch up on some news, and after I did that, I would close it.
I started an Instagram account just for sharing my photography and keeping in touch with friends. It’s true that not everyone I would have liked to stay in contact with was on Instagram, but there will be some things and people you’ll need to sacrifice when moving away from Facebook.
I started these accounts and slowly learned how to use them, establishing my digital identity on them so I didn’t feel completely plugged out when I eventually closed my Facebook account.
Step 4: Start telling your Facebook network you’re leaving (1–6 weeks)
Now this is where shit gets real. You’ve decided you’re leaving, and you’ve planted the seeds to grow your digital identity on other platforms. By this point it’s been 2–3 months since you started the process and you’ve likely already noticed a decrease in your Facebook usage and activity.
The next step is to let your friends know you’re migrating off the platform and tell them where they can stay connected with you if they want. This is a painful but crucial step because here is where you’ll learn who wants and doesn’t want you in their life. Before I left Facebook, I had close to 330 friends on there. By the time I left, I had about 80 followers on Instagram and Snapchat combined. This was quite the eye-opening experience for me.
I gave people a bunch of different options for staying in touch: Instagram, Goodreads, Snapchat and WhatsApp. Over the next few weeks, I’d post on my Facebook every other day a reminder that I was leaving and would link to a different social media account in each of those posts. A few people connected with me on Goodreads and some messaged on WhatsApp, but the bulk of new follows was on Instagram. From over 300, I went down to less than 100 “friends” across three different platforms. That was a more realistic figure of my actual friendships.
Step 5: Disconnecting Facebook from everything (3–4 weeks)
Here is where you’ll realize just how integrated Facebook is with everything else you do on the internet. Chances are you’ve used the ‘Log in with Facebook’ button more than the ‘Sign up with email’ option when logging into sites like Spotify, Uber, Goodreads, AirBnB, Rotten Tomatoes, Etsy, Pinterest, Foursquare, Pocket; the list goes on and on.
Now, you have to manually go in to each of those accounts on every single site you’ve ever logged in using Facebook, you need to go into settings to disconnect Facebook and make your email address the primary log in to access your accounts. And it’s a very good idea to change the passwords on all those sites too since they’ve all been using your Facebook password for login.
I won’t lie, this was the most painful step in the entire process, and the most time consuming in terms of how much work I had to do. I even signed up for a password manager at this point because it was going to be impossible remembering over 70 unique passwords for various sites. The convenience, and ubiquity, of Facebook will lay bare as you tediously make your way through this step.
What happens if you don’t complete this step 100%? I experienced that when I tried disconnecting my Spotify account from Facebook. If you deactivate your Facebook account without unlinking all other accounts that were logging in through Facebook, your Facebook account will become active again automatically. That’s what would happen every time I logged into my Spotify account — I’d get an email from Facebook saying ‘Welcome back, your account has been reactivated.’
I eventually abandoned my old Spotify account and migrated all my playlists over to a new account that was set-up with email from the get-go. If you miss any accounts in this step, you’ll know it only after you’ve deactivated your Facebook and tried logging into one of the overlooked accounts, which will bring your Facebook account back to life too.
Step 6: Save what you want to keep from Facebook (2–4 weeks)
By the time I was towards the end of my Facebook lifecycle, I had close to 80 different photo albums with over 1,000 pictures in them, and several hundred more pictures of me uploaded by other friends who had tagged me in them. For the most part, I had copies of those photos saved on my laptop too, but many photos that I liked were only on Facebook and I had to manually go through them and save the ones I wanted to keep.
This is also the step where you reach out to people you want to stay in touch with, or whose birthdays you want to remember, and ask them how to best keep in contact if they don’t use any of the other social media platforms you’ll be on post-Facebook. For me, this was a great way to understand which relationships I cared about and which ones I was ready to part with. All in all, I ended up making two dozen new contact cards on my Mac for friends whose birthdays and addresses I wanted to keep.
This step can be completed in fewer weeks, but give yourself time to make sure you collect and save all the information and pictures you want so you don’t regret it afterwards.
Step 7: Decrease Facebook usage (1–2 weeks)
If you’ve made it this far, the rest will be smooth sailing. By now you should be familiar with and comfortable on the other platforms you’ll be using (for me that meant posting on Twitter and Instagram). You’re well on your way to establishing your post-Facebook digital identity, and you should notice a marked reduction in your compulsive, daily use of Facebook. Keep that momentum going, post less and less on Facebook every passing week, and try to post fewer personal updates and pictures on Facebook so you can reduce your emotional and psychological dependence on the platform.
Step 8: Put safeguards in place to prevent another Facebook (1–2 weeks)
Social media addiction isn’t only confined to Facebook; it can happen on any platform. Twitter and Instagram can be as toxic as Facebook if not used in moderation. But if you’ve managed to make it this far in the hopes of kicking your Facebook dependence, you’re more likely to be cautious of falling into similar patterns on other sites.
One way to prevent yourself from falling down the same rabbit hole on other social networking sites is to limit who you follow, and where. On Twitter, don’t follow your friends. On Instagram, don’t follow the news. Keep your social media needs segregated so you don’t become wholly dependent on one platform like you did with Facebook. Diversify, and you’ll see that no one medium will ever start hogging all your attention again.
Another suggestion (which I too use) is investing in an app/website blocker. I use Freedom to keep Twitter and Instagram’s web page blocked everyday from 9am-9pm. You can use it to block Reddit, iTunes, YouTube — whatever your addiction is, and you can set which days and times those apps are blocked.
Step 9: Delete Facebook App and bookmarks (1–2 days)
Delete the Facebook app from your phone, and remove the website from your shortcuts or bookmarks in your browser. Anything else you have saved that links back to Facebook (such as funny posts or videos), delete those too. You are almost home free at this stage.
Step 10: Deactivate your Facebook account (1 day)
Deactivate, not delete, your Facebook account and feel that rush of exciting possibilities that await you in your Facebook-free future.
Step 11: Make sure Step 5 was properly completed (2–3weeks)
Spend your first few weeks reorienting yourself in life. Trust me, even though you’ve spent months preparing for this moment, you’re still going to need time to adjust to your post-Facebook reality.
You may remember you forgot to get someone’s contact info down, or you didn’t properly unlink some account from your Facebook. These few weeks are your chance to fix any errors you made in the previous 10 steps. Deactivation can be reversed, but the next step is permanent.
Step 12: Delete your Facebook account (30 days)
Facebook doesn’t advertise this option much, but deactivation and deletion are two different things. After you’ve been off Facebook for a few weeks while your account was deactivated, you’ll see that life after Facebook is possible, and it’s actually quite awesome.
Re-activate your account, and this time delete it. You’ll get an email saying your account is scheduled for permanent deletion and will be gone in 30 days. DO NOT try logging into Facebook again after this point. If you do, the request to delete your account will be void and you’ll have to start the process again.
After 30 days, your Facebook account will be gone forever.
At first, you’ll be overwhelmed by the amount of time you’ll have at your disposal again. For me, I started reading books again, went to the gym more often, and rediscovered the dying art of writing and mailing out Christmas and birthday cards to my friends all around the world.
If you decide to quit Facebook for good and are wondering how you should fill up all the free time you’ll have, I suggest you look into letter-writing and calligraphy.
You may just love it.