another man's ramblings on code and tech

Transitioning Off Facebook

For the last couple of years I’ve been concerned with FB and it’s use of my data. There’s been incident after incident, from millions of profiles being exposed when they shouldn’t be, to messages being available for big companies like Netflix to analyze. Including the Russian influence in the 2016 US Election and their slow response to the genocide in Myanmar being spread over their platform, I don’t really like negative ways it can influence society at large. I also don’t like the way that I’m a product on their platform to sell my attention to advertisers. On top of all this, the additional research being done linking social media to depression is also rattling. Of course, there’s also all the research on the “opinion bubble” social media can create, which tends to polarize views and make it harder for people with different opinions to get along together. With all of this, and much more, in mind, I ended up making a plan to transition off of Facebook and major social media websites. I deactivated my FB, Messenger, Instagram, and Twitter accounts at the end of the first week of February. Here’s how I slowly worked my way off.

Start with a timeline blocker

The first major step I took with Facebook was to install an extension that blocks the Facebook timeline. This helps you take a step back and start using the service mainly for messaging and events, rather than to be forced into your opinion bubble as soon as you log in. There are a few options for Firefox and Chrome. I ended up using one that swaps your timeline for an inspirational quote.

Tell your friends your plan

Whenever you get a chance, mention how you’re planning on making the move off of Facebook to your friends. Tell them the reasons you don’t really want to continue on the platform and that you’re aiming to reduce its use. This will make it easier for them to understand when you start using new platforms to communicate and coordinate. It might also convince some friends of the more tinfoil-hat variety like myself to join you in your quest.

Start using other services for messaging and planning

There are quite a few alternatives for keeping in touch with your friends and family. Signal and Telegram are open source and provide end-to-end encryption, which means you can verify their code isn’t doing anything with your private messages. I would recommend staying away from WhatsApp, as it’s owned by FB. I would also recommend not using any platforms you plan on leaving eventually. For example, moving your comms from FB to Reddit will make it just as hard to move from Reddit to another messenger if you want to close that account down.

I ended up going with Signal, email, SMS, and phone calls for keeping in touch with folks. For event planning I swapped to Google Calendar. Most importantly, I started using these services while still having a FB and Messenger. My friends started to understand that this was how I was going to do things from now on, and anytime I got a question about using Calendar rather than FB Events it was just another opportunity to explain why I wanted to move off of FB. This should make the move easier for your friends.

Download account history and data

A step to remember is to download all the data associated with your account. On FB this is an option in the account settings. Other sites have similar versions of this. Just remember to grab anything you’ll need before you go.

Send out a 3 day warning

3 days before you plan to leave the service, send out a message to all the people you care about on FB. Explain that you’re leaving the platform and why, say where they can contact you now, and, if applicable, ask the next best way of getting in contact with them. This gives your friends a chance to get your new contact info, a chance for you to get theirs, and 3 days buffer before the lights go out for final conversations to sizzle off.

Finishing off and looking forward

From there, all you should need to do is deactivate or delete your account. I’ve been off the platform for awhile now, and the only real change I’ve noticed is that I get slightly more email than normal. Looking forward I’m planning on scrubbing as many of my social media accounts as possible so that it should be easier to limit time and/or leave platforms entirely. Reddit and YouTube I don’t count in the same category as Facebook or Instagram. They’re a form of social media, but one that can be good in small amounts. Like sugar. Too much is quite unhealthy, but a little bit every now and then spices up life. So I’m planning on simply restricting my time on those websites to 45 minutes per day. If that seems good, I’ll try to shave that number down.

Anyhow, hope this was helpful in explaining a good way of moving off of Facebook. I feel much more free for it, but I have to consider what I’ll do if other platforms, like Google, end up losing my trust. That’ll be emergency tinfoil hat planning for another day, though.

Date: Mar 05 2019