How to delete Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp—and take your data with you
You made memories, but you don't have to lose them.
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.
How to delete Facebook
Your Facebook and Messenger accounts are one, so deleting one will affect the other. This will not happen with WhatsApp or Instagram, or any other apps you’ve used your Facebook account to log into.
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.
[Related: How to uncover what Facebook knows about you]
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.
One down, two to go.
How to delete your Instagram account
The process of backing up your data and deleting your account is fairly similar on Instagram. On mobile, go to Settings, Security, and then Download Data; on the web, go to Settings, Privacy and Security, and then Request download under Data download.
Just as on Facebook, you’ll need to ask the platform to bundle up your information into one or several files so you can download everything at a later time—the process may take up to 48 hours, Instagram says. If you do this process on the web, you can choose the format you want your data to come in (HTML or JSON). When the file is ready, Instagram will email you a link that will be usable for four days.
[Related: Criticism has pushed ‘Instagram Kids’ back to the drawing board]
Sadly, temporarily disabling or permanently deleting your Instagram account is not as straightforward as with Facebook. If you’re still not sure whether you want to completely delete your existence from the ‘Gram, log into your account from a web browser, go to Settings, and then Edit Profile. Scroll down and you’ll find a link (not a button) that reads Temporarily disable my account to do just that. The platform will ask for a reason (you can say Something else) and your password. Once you supply it, you’ll get logged out and your account will be deactivated until you log in again.
Deleting your account is even more complicated, as the only way to do so is to go to this webpage, which apparently hasn’t even been updated since Instagram changed its branding back in 2016. If you’re already logged in, Instagram will ask you for the reason you’re deleting your account (again, you don’t have to provide one). Finish by entering your password and you can kiss that second tie to Facebook goodbye.
How to delete your WhatsApp account
WhatsApp has two sets of data you can back up: your chat history and your account information.
To save all of your messages, including the files you’ve shared with your contacts, go to Settings and then to Chats and Chats backup on mobile. There, you’ll see the backup settings for your device (Google Drive for Android phones, iCloud for iOS devices), and you’ll be able to tweak how often the app saves your messages to the cloud. If you want to manually back up your data, tap the BACK UP button. If you change your mind about deleting WhatsApp later, you can restore your chat history easily.
[Related: 6 secure alternatives to WhatsApp]
To save your account information, you’ll have to request it. On Settings, go to Account and then Request account info. There, tap on Send request. As with Facebook and Instagram, you’ll need to wait around 48 to 72 hours for WhatsApp to bundle up your data. When it’s ready, you’ll get an automated message with a link, which you’ll have a limited amount of time to use. In this case, though, instead of a few days, it’ll be a few weeks.
Finally, go to Account and then Delete my account. Enter your registered phone number and hit DELETE MY ACCOUNT. This will delete your entire chat history, remove you from all of your WhatsApp groups, and obliterate your Google Drive chat backup, as well as your final tie to Facebook.