The Surprising Sadness of Deleting Facebook Posts

I can’t delete Facebook. My job and my writer’s compulsive need to promote my work mean I have to have an active Facebook account.

But with Facebook’s invasive use of data becoming increasingly clear, I want to limit my exposure. Since I couldn’t leave Facebook altogether, I tried to strip it of sensitive information. That turned out to be a fool’s errand.

On a Sunday evening, I started deleting old posts one by one. Browser extensions like Social Book Post Manager let you delete years’ worth of Facebook posts at a time but I wanted a more surgical approach. My writer narcissism wanted records of my work—and people’s reactions to my work—to stay up. I only wanted posts with personal information gone.

Going through my 11-year Facebook history was surprisingly painful. In fact, just the realization I’d been on Facebook for over a decade hurt. It still seemed new.

I’d always avoided sharing too much of my personal life on Facebook. Big parts of my life are absent from the social media platform. Most prominently, I’ve been wary of posting pictures or even mentioning my daughter. Having her on Facebook has always made me uneasy. The point of posting vacation or food photos has always eluded me.

Mostly, I’ve used Facebook to share news stories. That seemed like an acceptable use of Facebook in a pre-Cambridge Analytica world, but now not so much.

Political belief is a key data point for Facebook, so I took down the political links I’d shared in the last two years. But going through news stories I shared in the two years running up to the 2016 election was surprisingly emotional. Seen together, the posts plainly illustrated a truth I refused to admit to myself the time: Hillary Clinton was heading for a loss. I’d shared two year’s worth of news articles about Democrats structural failures and Clinton’s campaign taking midwestern voters for granted. How could I have been as surprised as I was on election night?

After re-living the wrenching shock of Trump’s election, I turned to my early Facebook posts. I didn’t think there’d be value in any communication that old. I was wrong. There was an excitement to that initial Facebook communication, with old friends and classmates connecting with each other for the first time after years of silence.

I didn’t take Facebook seriously at first. After the rise and fall of Friendster and MySpace, I expected all social networks to go through a boom and bust cycle. Confident that another social network would quickly replace Facebook, I treated it as something disposable, posting jokes and other ephemera. Though they were meant to be forgotten, those posts pulled hardest with nostalgia. I casually interacted with people who were once major parts of my life whom I haven’t seen or corresponded with since.

Something that was meant to be stupid stopped me cold. One year on Mother’s Day, I posted the video to the Danzig song “Mother.” Not a great joke, I know. But I couldn’t delete it nonetheless. My late Uncle Paul commented on it, saying Glenn reminded him of Jim Morrison. And I suddenly urgently missed my uncle again.

The trip down memory lane was complicated knowing that all of this information was being exploited by Facebook. They knew my relationships, my political beliefs and my enthusiasms. I didn’t care at the time but I care now. I wasn’t building something meant to last but the posts acquired meaning and value I didn’t expect. It seems sinister that Facebook extracted data from something so vanishing and personal.

I quit deleting posts after a while. It was sad, slow work that I increasingly suspected to be pointless. After accessing my data for 11 years, Facebook already knew me. I’m not sure what deleting posts was going to accomplish. They’ve been recording and storing my activity for years. I felt like I was closing barn doors years after the cows escaped. But seeing Facebook’s announcement about changing their approach to privacy and data collection, it seems like they’re doing the same thing.

It feels inevitable that I’ll delete my Facebook account. Professionally and personally, I’m most interested in using the site to share news and articles, which is low on Facebook’s list of priorities and still dropping.

I can foresee a day when I’ll stop using Facebook. But I’m sure all of the personal information I’ve posted on Facebook won’t disappear. So, unfortunately, I can’t foresee a day when my Facebook data will stop being used.