Facebook buries its option to delete an account in the help section and suggests taking a break (deactivating your account) rather than splitting forever.

Another reminder that you'll lose the content you've added to Facebook by deleting your account.

People are often more willing to give money to help a single person than to benefit an abstract cause. Radiologists may do a better job if they have a photo of the person whose scan they are reading. Anonymous statistics are much easier to ignore than personal stories. Facebook, Pink says, takes advantage of this bias when it points out specific friends who will miss us.

Pink gives Facebook credit for asking users why they want to leave. “One of the big lessons in persuasion, influence, selling is really getting inside the head of the other person and understanding what their real problem is,” he says, “Because many times the real problem is not the problem the customer first announces.”

Once Facebook knows you want to leave because your account was hacked, for instance, it can show you how to secure your account without leaving. If it knows you’re tired of its emails, it can show you how to turn those off and still keep you as a user. “That’s smart business,” Pink says.

What Pink finds “a bit coercive” is that Facebook requires users to explain why they are deactivating their accounts. “You very rarely see that in any other business," he says. "If I say, 'I don’t want to go to my dry cleaner anymore,' they don’t say, 'that’s fine, but you’re going to have to tell us why you’re leaving or we’re not going to give you your clothes back.'"

Requiring users to state a reason for leaving is also one of several ways that Facebook makes deactivating complicated. “In some cases, it is less important to change someone’s mind than it is to make it easier for them to act,” Pink says.

Making it more difficult for someone to leave Facebook is easier than convincing them that they don’t want to leave.

The author's personal breakup with Facebook lasted just three days.

Facebook makes it just as easy to reactivate an account as it makes it difficult to deactivate an account. Users who wish to reactivate simply log in to their accounts as though they've never left.

4 Persuasion Tricks Facebook Uses To Keep You From Quitting

Breaking up with a website should be easier than breaking up with a human being, but Facebook puts up an impressive fight. Here are the persuasion techniques it uses to keep users from leaving.

By the time I decided to delete my Facebook account earlier this month, things had not been right between us for quite some time. Our relationship had changed since I had first signed up in college. I was bored. I felt used.

But Facebook wasn’t ready to let me go.

Facebook's advertising revenue depends, in part, on how many users it has to show ads. Losing accounts isn't good for business, and the company was prepared to put up a fight.

I only found the option to delete my Facebook account—buried in the help center—with the assistance of Google. The instructions on the page suggested that perhaps we could take a break instead of splitting forever: "Please keep in mind that you won't be able to reactivate your account or retrieve anything you've added," it reminded me. If you decide to temporarily deactivate your account, however, Facebook will "save your timeline information (ex: friends, photos, interests, etc.) in case you want to come back."

I mean, we have been together for all of these years, I thought to myself, clicking over to the "deactivate your account" page. There Facebook asked me to think about all the friends we’ve made together. It listed five of them with their profile photos. "Sara will miss you," the captions read. "Alison will miss you." "Stephanie will miss you."

And why are you so unhappy anyway? Facebook seemed to ask next, requiring me to select from a list of "reasons for leaving." Most options come with a list of ways the problem could be fixed. I noted my privacy concerns. Facebook assured me it could do better in the future. "Before you deactivate," it asked me, "please take a moment to learn more about how privacy works on Facebook. "

This was no high school boyfriend I was dealing with. Facebook has break-up deflection down to a science.

I asked Daniel Pink, the author of To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, to dissect some of that science. Here are a handful of persuasion techniques he pointed out in Facebook's effort to convince me and other users to keep our accounts:

Making It Complicated: Every year, the government spends more than $100 billion on tax breaks that encourage retirement savings to little effect, but it turns out that what actually has a huge impact is simply auto-enrolling people in their 401k plans. "In some cases, it is less important to change someone’s mind than it is to make it easier for them to act," Pink says. Facebook is employing the opposite principle by hiding the link to delete an account, burying the link to deactivate an account, and by asking users to fill out a survey before they leave. These efforts make it more difficult for someone to leave Facebook, which might be just as effective as convincing them that they don’t want to leave.

Avoiding the Nuclear Option: Facebook makes it just as easy to reactivate an account as it makes it difficult to deactivate an account. Users who wish to reactivate simply log in to their accounts as though they've never left.

Getting Personal: People are often more willing to give money to help a single person than to benefit an abstract cause. Radiologists may do a better job if they have a photo of the person whose scan they are reading. Anonymous statistics are much easier to ignore than personal stories. Facebook, Pink says, takes advantage of this bias when it points out specific friends who will miss us. "If you say, people are going to be disappointed, it’s not going to be that persuasive." He says. "If you say, Alex will miss you, that actually is more persuasive. . . . I mean, you can almost see Alex’s face turning into a frown if you leave."

Pinpointing The Real Problem: Pink gives Facebook credit for asking users why they want to leave. "One of the big lessons in persuasion, influence, selling is really getting inside the head of the other person and understanding what their real problem is," he says, "Because many times the real problem is not the problem the customer first announces." Once Facebook knows you want to leave because your account was hacked, for instance, it can show you how to secure your account without leaving. If it knows you’re tired of its emails, it can show you how to turn those off and still keep you as a user. "That’s smart business," Pink says. What he finds "a bit coercive" is that Facebook requires users to explain why they are deactivating their accounts. "You very rarely see that in any other business," he says. "If I say, 'I don’t want to go to my dry cleaner anymore,' they don’t say, 'that’s fine, but you’re going to have to tell us why you’re leaving or we’re not going to give you your clothes back.'"

Facebook’s hard sell did not stop me from deactivating my account (sorry, Alex). I felt satisfied knowing that the blow-by-blow life updates from long-forgotten acquaintances, the inane political commentary, the FOMO, all of it, was finally over.

But three days later, when I wanted to get in touch with an old friend, I reactivated my account like an ex-girlfriend who can't quite commit to a breakup—just as Facebook had designed.

[Facebook Image: PromesaArtStudio via Shutterstock]

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18 Comments

  • James M

    "Facebook assured me it could do better in the future."

    ## If it can do better in the future, why has it not done so already ? Is that manipulation,or what ? *Not* benign.

  • sohaib ashraf

    is there an option to 'delete the timeline' (yearly documentation of events, photographs and other stuff)
    but keep the friends list at the same time

  • Maria Crockett

    Great teachable moment, wouldn't it be beautiful of Mark and Mary would apply this techniques to their marriage vs just divorcing?
    Stay Married
    Get Wise

  • ajvizz

    That stuff has no affect on me. I have a hard time leaving because if I leave that means apps I do want to use will stop working because of Facebook Connect.

  • maybenextyear

    cutting mobile access has provided much needed distance without the internal drama, and cycle, of deactivation/reactivation

  • Brunosantos

    This was no "high school" boyfriend I was dealing with. psss, LOL ... 

  • N0spoon

    Facebook is what I use to find articles/posts that interest me, plus it allows me to know what is going on with people I know in a way no other service does.  It's a utility, and nothing else comes close.  Sure, I could use some other social media site, but the utility factor is diminished because of less participation among the people and companies I enjoy.  I don't like to go to multiple sites to follow people, so I put up w/the b.s. in order to have the usefulness.  

  • lakawak

    Oh give me a break. First off...if you couldn't find the link without google, then you have no business ever being on the internet, let alone writing (sort of) on a site (sort of...blogs really are not sites.) And second, none of hese steps were out o the ordinary for any site/service.

  • Ken

    I deleted mine last night as I can not stop spam being sent from my account!
    why would FB have a mechanism to send stuff on your behalf without you knowing! rediculous and I will not support and use a platform that does that

  • lakawak

    So, it is facebook's fault that you are stupid enough to get your account hacked?

  • Ralph Moellers

    like in: If you are stupid enough to have your house burglarized? or  If you are stupid enough to be hit by a car? or If you are stupid enough to be insulted by an impudent commentator...

  • KLock

    It's the not reactivating part that is key. I just can't bear to miss out or have all those old high school and college friends think I don't think they are important. So I keep logging back in after I've deactivated. I wish there was a way to limit access to once a month. Call it self control, discipline, will power, whatever. Obviously, I don't have it.

  • sunstroked

    I nuked mine back in 2008. It really isn't a big deal. My life goes on except now I don't find myself bombarded with a stream of useless crap from people I haven't seen in 20 years.

  • lakawak

    And that is your own stupidity for having friended people you hadn't seen in 20 years in the first place.

    It never fails. The people whining about how awful Facebook is are the idiots who used it in a really stupid fashion.

  • Ralph Moellers

    What a good example of a well mannered, friendly Facebook fan you are. 

  • Dorothy M Neddermeyer, PhD

    While the Facebook suggestion for taking a break rather than a permanent deactivation seems to be self-serving, think beyond your bias. Some people might deactive their membership in haste--a bad mood or acting out anger--only to regret it later. Then, when they 'cool down' if they can't reactivate their account;
     Facebook is bad-mouthed as an unreasonable company.  Facebook has judiciously struck a middle ground--temporary or permanant membership deactivation. "You can please some of the people some of the time, but, you can't please all the people all the time." 

  • Sohaib ashraf

    is there an option to delete the on timeline, events and other stuff?
    but at the same time keep the friends list.