Quitting Facebook - A Behavioral Approach

By John-Henry | October 2, 2018

It took me a long time to quit Facebook – years. I knew that I didn’t particularly like most of my Facebook friends. I didn’t have particularly pleasurable experiences on the website post-high school, and most of all, I didn’t particularly like updating my profile picture. Still I didn’t want to delete my page, I had it for years, and Facebook messenger is really helpful.

In some sense I think I felt like the the decision not to delete Facebook was out of my control. I was loyal to my friends, not Mark Zuckerburg, that is why I stayed, and I think that is why a lot of people stay. But eventually I drew the line. I began to find Facebook at a conceptual level to be really gross. Whereas billboards convert the open sky into advertisements, Facebook would send me advertisements in bed, so much so that data scientists would have some degree of knowledge about when I sleep and when I wake up. I realized this is much bigger than me being lazy, but rather this is a war, for my mind and for my body. It was me versus the attention merchant, and I had no misconceptions that the person I was competing against had an Ivy League degree, knows better than to use the website himself and doesn’t let his1 kids use it. As a society, to fight back I think we need every chance we can get. This is what worked for me.

Plan of Attack

Facebook can be thought of as what as I see as three separate mediums, the desktop version of the site, the mobile version of the site, and messenger. Of these three, messenger is likely the one adding the most value in your life by helping you keep in touch with friends around the world. I recommend that if you are taking a waning approach, messenger goes last if at all. If you want to keep messenger and but delete Facebook as a hybrid approach to social media, I think this option has a lot of value. This was what I originally considered doing. When giving up Facebook, I suggest by starting with the mobile version of the app.

The Mobile Version

1 Delete the Facebook App

I think this is the easiest step. In this step, you can still go to Facebook mobile website via your browser. It is less pretty than the app, but still entirely functional. I spent about several months at this stage. Scrolling from the mobile website becomes normal after awhile. This shouldn’t be too tough.

2 Block the Website on the Mobile

To do this, I used parental safety settings. (i.e. on an iPhone, Settings > General > Restrictions). I always knew my restriction passcode and resisted the urge to unlock it when to get on Facebook. If I needed to use Facebook in a moment, I could likely do whatever I needed from a friend’s phone. One thing to remember is that there likely never a non-preventable case where you need to use Facebook to get in touch with someone. If you find this happening to you, ask your friends for their phone numbers. There are other messaging apps available.

If you are tempted to unlock the parental settings I would recommend having a friend or sibling make up the passcode for you. I tried having someone else create a passcode for me after a relapse but personally, I found it to be too cumbersome because the parental controls blocked some of the regular websites I enjoyed. From this, I learned and still keep the parental controls on my phone on everyday. I have not relapsed since. Fill the Facebook void with another website or mobile game if you must. There are plenty of other companies scrambling for your attention.

3 Delete the messenger app

This is a harder step in my opinion. I started by experimenting with turning off notifications for the messenger app, but I still found myself checking it just in case I missed anything. If there are people you contact regularly throughout the day, tell them you would just prefer to text them, or use another app to connect with them. Most people don’t mind. For people you message more occasionally, you can still message them on the desktop version of Facebook. No big deal.

The Dekstop Version

(using Google Chrome on a Mac)

Quitting Facebook Desktop was multitudes harder for me. This meant giving up graduate school groups, party alerts, notifications. Really a lot of perks. However, these didn’t come up too frequently, and if events were important enough I would get an email or text. I don’t feel like I am missing out.

1 Separate Messenger from the Desktop App

This step might be counter intuitive, but it is essential for the waning process. I highly recommend messenger which is a free, open-source Mac app. There is no cognitive cost associated for this step.

2 Hinder Facebook With Chrome Apps

The next step for me was making Facebook more boring. I was on this step for about a year. I highly recommend News Feed Eradicator which will replace your feed with a lame quote, and something to see who unfriends you (I can’t find the name of the extension I used, and I don’t know exactly how it started, but regardless I found seeing all my friends deleting Facebook surprisingly informative). Before quitting, I often saw a lot of my friends deactivating who I didn’t think of otherwise. I think it is very important to know that others are doing this too, because Facebook won’t tell you otherwise. If you are the type of person who uses incognito mode like I am, I want to emphasize that these extensions should be added to incognito mode too.

3 Add a Time Limit

The next step is to create an deterrent to make sure you don’t spend too long on the website. My limit was 10 minutes with StayFocud I don’t suggest adding this extension to incognito mode, as this may cause you to delete the extension. The purpose of this extension is for you to feel guilty when regularly browsing and be more cognizant of your time online, not so much to keep you off the website.

4 Block Notifications

In my opinion this is the step the requires the biggest jump, but is also the most rewarding. I used uBlock Origin to block notifications, and messages, and groups. I want to make clear that this will not affect the desktop messenger app, so you can still stay in touch with your friends, but your website experience will now become VERY limited. If you follow correctly your Facebook banner should look like:


The code I added to uBlock to do this is:

www.facebook.com###pagelet_reminders > ._1-ia > ._4-u8._20os._2tyk._1-ib._4-u2
www.facebook.com###pagelet_reminders > ._1-ia > ._4-u8._20os._2tyk._1-ib._4-u2
www.facebook.com###fb_stories_card_root > ._4-u8._20os._2tyk._1-ib._4-u2

5 Deactivate

When you’re ready, it’s time. Note: you can still log into messenger via the desktop app after deactivating. I think this final step is sufficient for most people.


Log out

Some people might suggest deleting Facebook rather than deactivating. I didn’t do this. I logged out of messenger, and that was enough for me. I still think messanger is a valuable tool.

Closing Thoughts

I know a lot of people feel differently about deactivating Facebook than I do, and get a lot of joy from the platform. If you are one of those people, I think that is fine. In fact, I envy you for not being as entrenched as I was. But I do think a lot of people in my age group feel the same way I do, and as a behavioral scientist it is my responsibility to share what worked for me.

1 I use the word “he” because Silicon Valley is largely male dominated. Could easily be a she too!

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