So, You Wanna Leave Facebook?

Replacing the social media giant ain't easy.

Public Domain image by ATLAS Social Media

WaPo technology reporter Heather Kelly beings her feature, “You’ve decided to quit Facebook. Here’s how to migrate your online life elsewhere” thusly:

Every time there’s a Facebook scandal, you may have thought about quitting the social network, and this time for real. But you run into the same problem every time: Where exactly should you go?

After a rough month of revelations about Facebook’s business practices, culminating with a whistleblower testifying in front of lawmakers about the social network’s harmful impact on children, many are once again trying to figure out how to extricate themselves from the company.

But breaking up with Facebook means also cutting off Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, which are all owned by the company. For some people in emerging markets, Facebook is also their low-cost connection to the Internet. Leaving means giving up on a number of online relationships that you may not be able to re-create elsewhere. It’s not easy to move entire online communities or extended families to other services like Twitter, Slack and TikTok.

The truth is, leaving Facebook isn’t possible for everyone. That’s by design. With nearly 3 billion users around the world, Facebook has a reach that’s closer to a public utility than a fun social app. It’s impractical and even unfair to ask that many people just quit. But for those who can and want to, here’s where they can go next.

Understand what you’re giving up if you leave Facebook

The networks created within Facebook and Instagram are exclusive to those services. Our friend and follow lists are the product of years of people coming in and out of our lives, and of searching for old acquaintances or being found by them.

The closest we have to an open-source social network are our cellphone numbers or email addresses. But unless you have that contact information for everyone you know on Facebook down to your classmates from the fifth grade, you’ll be severing connections that are difficult to make again.

And because of Facebook’s dominance as a social network — according to Pew Research Center, nearly 70 percent of Americans are on Facebook — you can’t find all of its features and members on a single service. Are all of your older relatives on TikTok? Is your WhatsApp group on Snapchat? When you do find people elsewhere, it probably won’t be the same experience. A friend might be all about dog photos on Instagram but share nothing but angry rants on Twitter.

Know that if you leave, many others can’t or won’t be able to make the switch with you, especially in countries where Facebook’s Free Basics is the Internet for people, or where WhatsApp is the same as text messaging. Some apps are harder to leave than others. People may decide that they only want to quit Facebook and not WhatsApp because of their families, or they may just cut out Instagram for their own mental health and keep the rest.

Finally, remember that just because these companies aren’t Facebook doesn’t mean they don’t have the same issues you should be paying attention to. You might have security concerns about TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance. And smaller companies may not have strong security or privacy infrastructure, as we saw with Parler’s massive scrape earlier this year.

This isn’t to discourage you from making the jump, but know what you’re jumping into.

So, essentially, only leave Facebook if you don’t use Facebook. And, if you’re leaving Facebook, you may as well leave the Internet entirely, because the whole thing has the same problems that you’re leaving Facebook to escape.

I joined Facebook in February 2007, just months after it became available to the general public, as a means of having a separate forum for OTB users. Because my friends list is a combination of blog-related folks, people I knew from high school and college, those I served with in the Army, professional acquaintances, relatives of my late wife, and actual friend-friends, my feed is something of a mess and I really don’t use it all that much. It would be much harder for me to wean myself from Twitter than Facebook and its sundry acquisitions.

But Kelly is right: there’s no other venue that could plausibly replicate what Facebook offers, simply because it’s been around so long. Even if your grandma were on TikTok, its platform seems mostly designed to promote idiotic memes rather than sharing of family photos and having conversations. There are myriad plausible substitutes for Messenger or WhatsApp for those not talking to folks in countries ruled by autocratic regimes but the interconnectedness with the Facebook network can be useful.

FILED UNDER: Social Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Having never been on the book of faces, I don’t know what I’m missing. For some reason or other, I feel no need to find out.

    11
  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Never could understand why Facebook. In the early years people would say reconnect with old friends, and I’d reply no interest. Never joined it and never will and despite that manage to have a reasonably active online ID, by participating in several discussion boards and blogs around specific interests. Pretty much I use the same moniker, so if someone from here tripped across Sleeping Dog, it is likely me.

    Yes the internet in general suffers from the same failings as FB, but it is far more disorganized and lacks the intentional evilness of Zuck’s creation.

    5
  3. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    What’sApp is good for staying in touch with a friend from my Korea days. He suggested that I get an account. As far as Facebook, years ago I was asked by someone why I didn’t have a Facebook account. My response was that my real life takes up so much bandwidth that I have no interest in having a virtual one. That’s still true today–and I’m retired. (And yes, I suppose one could make the point that this is a virtual community, so I have a virtual life after all.)

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  4. MarkedMan says:

    I was on Facebook primarily to see the pictures my wife posted. She doesn’t use it anymore so I am down to one specific group I go to directly. I never go to my home page. I stay in touch with the extended family via a large group chat that never discusses politics. Life is good.

    1
  5. Long Time Listener says:

    I left FB in 2016, after seeing the beginning of The Decline of American Society, which I also call ‘The Slow End of the American Moment’. Every time I hear someone say something stupid, masqueraded as ‘researched’, it’s introduced “I saw something posted on Facebook, and….”

    4
  6. @Sleeping Dog:

    Never could understand why Facebook

    My main use for it was always to keep in touch with friends and family who are spread all over the country and around the globe. No better way, for example, to keep in touch with my friends in Colombia or a friend who moved to Mexico. A lot of my friends live in other states (and all my family does).

    It has some redeeming qualities, although I certainly see the downside, which is linked to a broader problem that FB did not create, but definitely exacerbates: most people can’t tell a legit news story from a fake one.

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  7. But, FWIW, I have thought about leaving the platform, but then know that I am going to lose touch with a number of people I actually do stay engaged with because of FB. I do try to limit my “friends” to actual friends, which helps.

    4
  8. Mike in Arlington says:

    While I didn’t leave facebook, I did delete the app (as well as other facebook developed apps like FB messenger and instagram) from my phone and tablet. You can access FB using the browser on your phone (I use “Friendly” which AFAICT, is a reskinned browser with some privacy/security features enabled by default). I don’t know how much that really limits the damage, but it sorta feels like it does. I also have found that my friends aren’t posting as much anymore and I never really posted a bunch, so I tend to just not use it nearly as much as I once did.

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  9. Kathy says:

    I follow exactly zero family and school and work acquaintances on FB. I do follow a few friends I’ve only met a couple of times.

    When I was active on it, I mostly followed a few people found randomly here and there whom I found posted links to interesting stuff (this includes our late Doug, who led me to this blog), and publications and aggregators I found of interest.

    This declined as paywalls went up. Why follow Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, WaPo, etc, if I hit a paywall when trying to read a story?

    So, these days I spend maybe ten minutes on it every other day. I also deleted the app from my phones, and access it only with a browser.

    WhatsApp, though, is different. It’s pretty much the only texting service used at work, or by my immediate family. I don’t use it much, though. Believe it or not, I tend to call before texting (who uses a phone for calls, right??)

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    Had it for a couple years, deleted it a couple years back. Zero downside, zero regret.

  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I can understand your use of FB, I used LinkedIn the that purpose. When I retired, I let that account go fallow to the point a year ago I tried logging on and they wanted me to go through some elaborate verification process, didn’t bother.

    1
  12. Michael Cain says:

    Network communication services’ value increases at a greater than linear rate with the number of subscribers. The only way anyone overtakes FB in terms of delivered value is if there’s full interoperability: I can be on FB and you can be on up-and-coming new service but we both can access the content of both networks transparently.

    1
  13. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    I started a LinkedIn account about 12 years ago. It immediately got spammed by a bunch of self-published “authors” promoting their idiotic self-help books. I never went back, but I still get notifications from them. I have a Twitter account, but have never used it. Facebook I limit to actual friends and family. OTB is the only place I comment.

  14. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:

    For me LinkedIn was a biz tool, it gave me access to potential contacts. There was spam, mostly people looking for jobs and other sales guys trying to sell me training/consulting services etc. Basically they were doing something similar to what I was. Oh and then there were the financial services prospectors, yeah they were a pain.

    What I preferred about it, was that the amount of useless information, gossip and rumor was fairly low. What did come, came from people that I either worked with, were customers or had some sort of professional relationship with me. Seldom received a tawdry joke or a political rant from someone who only knew of me via LinkedIn. It helped that I only completed about half the profile info, saving me from having the service try to connect me to people I hadn’t thought about in close to 30 years. But yeah, if you don’t have a professional plan for how you will use it, it’s pointless.

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  15. Kari Q says:

    I’m the rare individual who actually finds Facebook useful. I use it to stay in touch with a group of friends I met online at another site. The site where we originally met is not available anymore so our friendship has moved to Facebook. I don’t know that the group would survive another move.

    I also keep in touch with family who I would not talk to as much without it.

    I have one hard rule to keep the site useful: anyone who posts misinformation and doesn’t take it down when fact checked is immediately removed from my friend list. The only exception is my father’s new wife (stepmother feels weird since I was over 45 when they married) whose posts I ignore simply to make life easier on him.

    1
  16. Stormy Dragon says:

    The solution would be a requirement that Facebook implement the W3C ActivityPub protocol and enable federation with other services:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ActivityPub

  17. Scott says:

    I use Facebook. The key to Facebook is to control your feed. If a Facebook “friend” really starts to go off the deep end, I don’t “unfriend”, I just block the feed. Most uses are really just neighborhood groups, elementary and high school groups/reunions. If NextDoor continues to expand, then I can see that replacing that aspect of Facebook.

    BTW, NextDoor seems to be aggressive in not allowing it to go down the same sewer as Facebook and Twitter. In our local neighborhood, the “monitor” doesn’t hesitate to block a controversial political post. So it is benign lost dog, yard sale stuff with the occasional “what kind of snake is this?” picture. I appreciate it.

    1
  18. Not the IT Dept. says:

    It would be very interesting to be a time traveller and go 100 years into the future to find out what social media is like then, or to find out what the social historians writing about the first decades of the 21st century have to say about it. I can’t believe there isn’t going to be a massive crash and burn in the next ten years with most of these platforms.

    My wife and I are on LinkedIn for business purposes but put only the barest information on our profiles. When we’re fully retired by the end of 2024, then we’ll delete them entirely. We’ve never been on Facebook or any of the others. Never made any sense to us.

    1
  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Coming back to read more stuff reminded me that I also have an account at Classmates. I don’t do anything noteworthy on it because the fee for the full service is more than I’m willing to pay them for the value. I think I updated my profile and story just before I left for Korea. I remembered this because I’ve been hearing from the site because we’ve had a 50 year reunion pending since 2020. The last time it was postponed we changed it to a celebration of our 70th birthdays and is scheduled for September of next year. Maybe we’ll get it done this time.

    There are about half a dozen people I might keep track of via Facebook, but I suspect that most of them are probably too busy to keep an active Facebook thing going. I have a friend who’s very active on it though. He trolls for Trumpies so he can get into public arguments with them. (Should I mention that he’s an evangelical?)

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Scott: The Next Door neighborhood for my area is too small to provide much information other than passing on State declarations. The moderator (???) appears to be a working mom, and doesn’t seem to have much time for keeping it up. No one else seems to have any interest either. If Facebook had been like our Next Door is, no one would have ever heard of Mark Zuckerberg. I guess that there really is something in the cool kids needing a place to snark about the other kids in safety.

  21. David S. says:

    The real crux is that you shouldn’t want to replace Facebook. Facebook isn’t bad because it’s owned by Zuck. Facebook is bad because it’s Facebook. You’re not really quitting it if you replace it. It’s like replacing cigarettes with candy bars.

    And I speak as a person who uses Facebook and finds it mildly useful. Mildly because I don’t engage with it much; I use it as a fancier Livejournal with ads. There are friends there I’d otherwise completely lose touch with, but I get almost no real news there (sometimes a friend posts a thing), so I don’t experience most of the real downsides. (I’m also very careful about what I post to who, but I mean… I joined sometime in 2007 out of an academic interest in social network sites, so being deliberate about privacy has always just come naturally to me.)

    1
  22. Roger says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    It would be very interesting to be a time traveller and go 100 years into the future to find out what social media is like then

    If you can’t swing time travel, try out Neal Stephenson’s Fall; or Dodge in Hell. Although at the rate we’re going it’s not going to take anything like 100 years to reach his dystopian world of an educated elite with curators keeping the crazy off their web feed surrounded by a intenet-addled Ameristan.

  23. Stormy Dragon says:

    @David S.:

    The real crux is that you shouldn’t want to replace Facebook. Facebook isn’t bad because it’s owned by Zuck. Facebook is bad because it’s Facebook. You’re not really quitting it if you replace it. It’s like replacing cigarettes with candy bars.

    Social media isn’t in and of itself bad, social media driven by monetizing “engagement” is what’s bad as it invariably leads to manipulating users.

    Technically, this comment section is a form of social media. Do you feel we’d be better off if it were eliminated?

    1
  24. EddieInCA says:

    No Facebook for me.
    No Instagram for me.
    No Snapchat for me.
    No Tik-Tok for me.

    I’ve never had any of them. I do have a twitter account, but rarely tweet.

    I have zero regrets. I don’t have enough time in the day as it is. I don’t need anything else that will be a time suck.

    Facebook ruined what was a delightful website on which me and my extended family regularly interacted. It was called familygathering.com, but it’s defunct last time I checked. We had about 80 family members on the site. Everyone from my family migrated to Facebook, I didn’t.

    1
  25. Stormy Dragon says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Metcalfe’s Law: The value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metcalfe%27s_law

  26. Gustopher says:

    Leaving Facebook doesn’t solve the problem of Facebook. For that, we might need burning torches and guillotines (after a perfectly fair trial in front of the People’s Revolutionary Army Military Tribunal, of course)

    I have mostly stepped away from it, because it isn’t particularly fun, but pop on from time to time to tell my right wing nieces who are posting 9/11 “never forget” stuff that they aren’t even old enough to remember 9/11, that twenty years of war is not normal, and that by fetishizing it they are risking making it like The Field of Blackbirds in Kosovo 1389 which was used an an excuse for genocide 500 years later.

    I have been told that comparing 16 year olds to Slobodan Milosevic is considered harsh, but stand by my message — just forget 9/11 already and don’t carry it on to new generations.

    4
  27. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Leaving Facebook doesn’t solve the problem of Facebook.

    Correct. the solution requires everyone to leave Fakebook.

    I have been told that comparing 16 year olds to Slobodan Milosevic is considered harsh,

    I’m certain Milosevic was 16 once.

  28. Chip Daniels says:

    Most modern inventions take something that has always existed, but make it faster, stronger, more nimble and intense.

    Not a bad thing if you are talking about transportation, but in this case we are talking about the very social fabric of gossip, shunning, exclusion and inclusion.

    In the pre-Internet days social exclusion might be your friends at the VFW or beauty salon or church, but now its twenty million people who saw you do something stupid/awful.

    And as always in human society, the tools of shunning are as easy as picking up a rock, but the tools of redemption and restoration are difficult.

    I gave up FB somewhere around 2015, and did in fact lose connection with old family members.

    But I also remembered that if it was that easy to lose connection with them, its probably because we just didn’t have much connecting us in the first place.

    A lot of it was like running into your old pal Bill from high school math class. After the first few chats about life since, the conversation falls into awkward silence because you really don’t have much in common anymore.

    Except now with FB, Bill is ever present, hovering in the ether to participate in your blather about sports or politics or religion and jump in with a comment or opinion.

    Better to just not have all those people hovering like annoying poltergeists.

    1