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How to delete Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp—and take your data with you

So much has happened with Facebook lately that it’s hard to keep track. Since Frances Haugen, a former data scientist for the company, made public thousands of documents (known now as The Facebook Papers) and addressed a Senate subcommittee at the beginning of October, the world has been privy to more and more of the platform’s inner workings and struggles.

These include failing at managing hate speech and misinformation, the existence of internal research regarding the negative effect Facebook-owned Instagram has on teens and especially girls (and the failure of executives to do something about it), and even uncertainty about the true size of the platform’s user base. The set of documents could later reveal even more about the platform, in what is undoubtedly the worst crisis the company has faced in its 17-year history.

If these findings have exhausted your patience and you’ve decided you no longer can be a part of the company’s community, all of Facebook’s platforms have easy-to-follow steps to back up your data and delete.

But before you pull the plug, you may want to save all the data you’ve amassed on the platform throughout the years. First, open your preferred web browser and go to your Facebook page. Then, click on the downward arrow next to your profile picture in the top right corner of the screen, go to Settings and Privacy, and then Settings. From the sidebar menu on the left, choose Your Facebook Information.

Here you can see an itemized version of your data (click on Access your Information), move it to another platform (click Transfer a Copy of Your Information), or Download your Information.

To do the last of those options, click the View link next to it. This will let you save everything you’ve ever posted to Facebook since you opened your account, plus all the data the company has on you. If you only want the last few years, for example, you can choose a date range, as well as the specific type of information you want to save—from Messenger conversations to posts, polls, places, and events. This long list of items is completely selected by default, but you can pick and choose what you want to take with you by clicking the checkboxes on the right.

Once you know what you want to back up, select a file format (HTML or JSON—the latter is better if you want to transfer your data somewhere else), and click Create file. Facebook has a lot of information about you, so this will not be immediate—it may be several days before the file or files are available for you to download. Once it’s done, though, Facebook will let you know via email that your data is ready for you to save. This is a time-sensitive matter—files are large, so Facebook will only make them available to you for a few days before they delete them. If your download window closes on you, you’ll have to start again.

When you have everything you want to take with you safely stored on your hard drive, you can finish deleting your account. Back on the Your Facebook Information menu, scroll down to find Deactivation and deletion, which are precisely the two options you have here.

Deactivating means you can temporarily take your account down—removing your name, photos, and most of the things you’ve shared, but you’ll still be able to use Messenger. You can undo this whenever you want. On the other hand, you can choose to permanently delete Facebook. You can’t go back on this choice, and once you go through with it, all of your data will be lost to the internet ether. Click on the bubble next to your preferred option, then hit Continue. Facebook will ask for your password one more time before it makes everything disappear.

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