Dump Facebook, Keep Your Friends: A Step-By-Step Guide

You don't have to say goodbye to your friends in order to keep the good parts of Facebook and avoid the constant distraction. Here's a step-by-step guide to leaving Facebook without deleting your online social life.

Except for the holdouts, the fundamentally opposed, and those without Internet access, almost everybody can be found on Facebook today—including you. And once you’re signed up, it's hard to ever break up, because now you've got private messages, event invitations, endless new baby photos, and life-changing announcements from your closest friends all landing in that big blue inbox. It can seem downright impossible to leave, even when your Facebook relationship becomes unhealthy.

Luckily, you don't have to say goodbye to your Facebook friends—or front a newer version of the "I don’t even own a TV" line—in order to keep the good parts of Facebook while avoiding the constant distraction. Here's a step-by-step guide to leaving Facebook without deleting your online social life.

Keep Semi-important Stuff Coming Via Email

Before you craft what will be your almost-final status update, set up Facebook to notify you of events, messages, and other notable events.

Open Facebook in a non-mobile web browser, then click the arrow near the upper-right corner (to the right of "Home," and to the left of the endlessly scrolling news feed). Choose "Account settings," then, on that settings page, choose "Notifications" from the list on the left. Scroll down a bit to the "All notifications" section, then click on the "Facebook" listing (weird and meta, I know). You’ve got 19 boxes you can check to the right of each option, with each check signifying "Yes, send me an email about this."

If the goal is to have Facebook only notify you about things to which you might actually respond, consider enabling these notifications:

  • Sends you a message
  • Adds you as a friend
  • Has a birthday coming up

Those are the basics for those seeking a hard break from Facebook interactions. If you want to know when someone has ignored your attempts to get them to communicate with you elsewhere, also check:

  • Posts on your Wall 
  • Tags you in a post
  • Mentions you in a comment
  • Says you are with them in a post

When you’ve got the right things checked off, click the "Save changes" button at the bottom of the list. Now pull the same kind of move in the "Events" section of the notifications, making sure to check at least the first four: "Invites you to an event," "Changes the date," "Updates an event," and "Cancels an event." Click "Save changes" again.

Under the Photos section, check at least "Tags you in a photo" and "Tags one of your photos" so that you get notified when a picture of you appears on Facebook. Click "Save changes," and now you’ve got everything of note from Facebook heading into your personal email inbox.

Filter Your New Facebook-Via-Email Service

Okay, so now all the little notifications that were bugging you on Facebook are bugging you in email. Time to set up some inbox filters, to separate, flag, or otherwise manage that Facebook firehose. Here are some helpful data points toward that end:

  • All of Facebook’s notification mail comes from "facebookmail.com."

  • All Facebook message notifications have a subject reading "New message from (friend name)."

  • Messages from groups you belong to start with a bracket (as in "[Awesome Super-Managers] Reminder …"

  • Invitations to events have the phrase "invited you to," which, combined with the message coming from facebookmail.com, should pin those down just about perfectly.

The other key piece is to grab Facebook Messenger for your iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry, so that Facebook messages can reach you on your phone, even if you try to avoid being tied to your email notifications on the go. It’s entirely optional, of course, but if you’ve got friends who treat Facebook like a text message, or occasionally get good opportunities through messages, it’s a handy backup. If you don’t rock a smartphone, you can use Messenger through standard texting.

Move Your Events To Your Real Calendar

The last crucial data piece is keeping track of Facebook events without actually logging into Facebook. Facebook lets you track your events in a standard calendar, but you have to know where to find the feed. Head to your main Facebook page, then click the Events area in the left-hand column. On the next page, there’s a tiny little magnifying glass, just to the right of the "Create Event" button. Click it, choose "Export events," and you get a link you can click to instantly install the calendar in Google, Outlook, iCal, or wherever you stash your events.

Saying "Goodbye"

Now your friends can still get word to you through Facebook, but they can’t hit you with every last meal, cat picture, and Spotify playlist in their day. The last step is to leave a piece of smart, sensitive signage so people know that you’re not active on Facebook. This is the hardest part.

One option is to write your not-really-here message in an image tailored and cropped for the Timeline image slot (851 pixels wide by 315 tall, at the time of this writing). It’s a bit of work, but it’s the most effective way to make sure profile visitors, from the web or among your friends, see that you’re not really there. Combine that with shutting off apps and friends’ access to your wall in your privacy settings, and now your profile will stay exactly as it is.

Now, what do you say to your friends without making them think their own Facebook lives aren’t good enough for you? For kicks, I asked my Google+ network—twice—figuring there would have to be some Facebook semi-quitters among them. Most had a set-and-forget mentality: If they really need you, they’ll reach you another way, so just write that you’re not there. One friend suggested giving up a sliver of dignity for an explanation most could relate to: "I have a problem with my account, so I’ve decided to shut it down for now" (technically true, even if the "problem" is a choice about distractions). I’m planning to go with an in-between option: "I’m moving over to Google+, so feel free to follow me there—or email me, so I can write you a real response."

[Image: Wongstock via Shutterstock]

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  • winwardk

    Thanks for the excellent summary and advice! In many ways I believe Facebook is "TMI" (too much information). Many users get stuck on things they can't do anything about, and others seek proxy therapy through it, and unfounded opinions become the rule of the day. At its sometimes worst FB is equivalent to the "gee whiz" moments folks had about email in the early 1990's, e.g., rumors, pyramid schemes, Bill Gates is sending every 10th person who replies to Disney World, etc.

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    Social networking sites allow those leaks to go viral, and be seen by many users more quickly. Time difference is also a problem facing traditional advertisers. When social events occur and are broadcast on television.

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  • Callforservices38@yahoo.com

    Someone hacked my account angelina taylor how do you unlock it Angelina Taylor

  • joseph mckey

    I have been off of Facebook since october 2011 I basically find the site irritating and most of my so called friends didn't even want anything to do with me so I just said no to site and I am never going back ever again.  I should establish the Facebook Haters site.

  • GradyPhilpott

    Social networking is an unnecessary,  self-imposed inconvenience.

    It is just one ego trip that I don't need to live my life and backing out of it was almost as easy as getting into it in the first place.

    There's no need to complicate the issue.

  • Greg Quinlivan

    Could you please give a step-by-step walkthrough of the GMail settings that need to be changed? I've tried a few things and it's not working the way you described. The points you made are not precise enough to follow. I guess you are trying to cover different email services, but without accurate instructions it's not possible to follow your recommendations, Much appreciated, Greg.

  • Matthew D. Lyons

    Interesting read. About a year ago, I took a social media sabbatical, if you will, and
    have been contemplating repeating the experience -- mainly because of
    the distraction factor.

    Perhaps it's just me, but it seems like the entire article is more about how to circumvent going to Facebook. The slug for the article is "Leaving Facebook Without Really Leaving," but the actual title is Dump Facebook, which implies something entirely different.

  • Wallace Abbett

    Good tips, but I don't understand why you would need or want to leave a message saying, "I'm not here."    That sounds pretentious.

  • ITLStaff

    How about joining a niche social network more tailored to your personality and bringing your friends with you! ITL - Intothelifestyle is a great one!

  • Jane

    It seems like everyone is waiting for someone to come up with a site that is better than Fbook. And, I think you are onto the next big thing -- specific social arenas by interest. I mean, the big problem with facebook is that the only "safe" topics are soooo general and not fun necessarily. (Puppies, children and re-posts of cats, to name a few.) Then there are the clueless people who try to post about politics. Yikes, wouldn't touch anything personal on a privacy-challenged site like Fbook. Right? :) I will have to check that out.