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Deleting your Facebook account is the latest viral trend

The Facebook logo, displayed in Berlin in 2016.
The Facebook logo, displayed in Berlin in 2016.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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The latest trend on Facebook... is dropping Facebook. 

Many users are intensely angry that their personal information may have been sold or misused by the social media giant. And they're disconnecting in droves. 

If you're one of the ones who wants to delete your Facebook account, it's pretty simple. First thing is, you should copy your information and make an archive of your account — all of those photos, your timeline info, posts and so on. Just go to Settings and download your info (for a tutorial, click here). To delete the account, you have to go to an outside page, click here. That's it. It takes a few days 'til your account is terminated — and make sure you don't sign onto Facebook while that's pending or you'll have to go through the deletion request all over again. 

The viral elimination of Facebook accounts has had a big effect — the company lost $50 billion in stock worth in just a few days. Long-term, we wondered, what effect could this trend have? Is this a tipping point for Facebook?

We talked to Karen North, professor of digital social media at the University of Southern California.

What this trend may mean for Facebook 

It's really a big problem for Facebook. There's a huge difference for a platform like Facebook between deciding not to use Facebook and deleting Facebook. Because deleting it is a very permanent and very damaging action for Facebook. 

It can be so hard to hit the Delete Account button

For a lot of us, if we look at it from afar, we think about whether we're really enjoying the curated experience. We know it serves the purpose of being our global address book and our photo gallery. In that way, it's sort of a utility we don't want to give up. We do think, how will I get in touch with old friends and acquaintances, how will I see the generations of photos I've put there and how will I know whose birthday it is and who should I wish a happy birthday to, I don't want to miss that. 


Deletions have potential to cripple Facebook

The biggest problem for Facebook in this is, they thrive when the cool kids find them. And if the cool kids are saying the new "in" trend is to delete them, it sends a signal it's time to move somewhere else. It's a problem. They need to re-engage the thought leaders and the people who are the trend-setters. 

Personal information is everywhere

You have to remember that whatever data you've provided to people via Facebook and other sites, your data are already collected by various entities. It's not just Facebook. I always want to warn people, whenever they do those fun surveys, like "What was the song played at your high school prom," all of those little fun surveys asking about your likes and activities, those are just asking you about your personal life.

Information can't be entirely deleted

You will not be scrubbed away. Anything that was already up there is still there. Even when you try to delete things there are usually records of it somewhere and they're no longer in your control. Somebody else made a copy of it, or someone took a screenshot of it, or it pinged off a server and it's sitting in a server somewhere. The best we can hope for is, by putting up more and more different and better information of ourselves online, that it pushes down the information we want to hide. It makes it harder for people to access. But not impossible. 

Users can still make a statement, if enough people dropped their accounts.

Everybody sees social networks being the clubs people go to, like nightclubs. The question is, what's the next nightclub? Facebook has had a great ride because it has gone beyond the nightclub. But whether or they have the staying power as a social experience site is really questionable. They've been doing a fine job of maintaining their relevance to people, by being a place where people can share their lives, their opinions and the news, but when people don't like an experience it's very easy in this digital age of things being able to be spread so quickly and shared so readily, it's very easy to signal each other that we no longer trust or no longer like an experience. With Facebook right now, the issue really is trust. They already had a problem because of the Russian meddling, but we're a step beyond that now. We're now hearing that Cambridge Analytica was actually scraping private data and using it directly, and people do not like that kind of privacy violation.