Recently, Holden resident Claude O’Donnell, 69, announced he was calling it quits on Facebook.
“I have enjoyed keeping up with many of you,” he posted earlier this month. “But Facebook has become too much of distraction in my life.”
O’Donnell, a retired banking executive and a Bangor Daily News trustee, told the BDN that he’s been spending too much time keeping up with Facebook.
“And at my age, time is worth more than anything else,” he said. So, on Nov. 30, he said, he plans to simply delete the application from the mobile tablet device he uses and be done with it.
But deleting the app won’t deactivate or eliminate the account itself. That requires a series of steps that many Facebookers don’t know about and which, especially for older users, is important to understand.
Plan ahead for closing social media accounts
For many baby boomers and older seniors as well, social media has become a part of daily life and an important tool for staying connected with friends, family and the larger community. Facebook, in particular, is popular with the 55 and older set, with an estimated 70 percent of all online users in this age group owning an account. Among American baby boomers alone — those born between 1946 and 1964 — about 82 percent are active on Facebook, according to a 2015 survey by the digital marketing site DMN3.
But while boomers and seniors may be adept at posting their photos, personal comments and other information to Facebook, many do not know the protocol for taking down their accounts, according to Ed Brazee of BoomerTech Adventures, an Orono-based business that helps baby boomers become more familiar with digital technology.
“I don’t hear much about it,” he said. “Most often people are asking me how to get onto Facebook and about the settings that control privacy, notifications and ads.” But for a number of reasons, he said, it’s important to know how to close your Facebook account as well, whether it’s a simple personal preference or because of illness, incapacitation or death.
“There may be some security risks,” he said, “but more likely it’s just sort of weird to have all that personal information floating around out there online.” Brazee suggests people include information such as usernames and passwords for Facebook and other social media accounts with their estate planning documents, along with instructions for how they want those accounts managed.
Options for ending your Facebook interactions
“An active but unmonitored social media account can be used to impersonate you if someone takes it over,” John Bell, who teaches digital curation at the University of Maine, said. “Depending on how you’ve set up your social media account and what information is in it, taking it over can be the first step to gaining access to passwords for other, more serious, online accounts like banking or insurance.”
In addition, he said, basic personal information such as the names of friends or family members can be used to scam vulnerable seniors.
“My recommendation is that everybody, including seniors, be aware of what they’re putting online and how the privacy controls for Facebook and other social media platforms work,” Bell said. “And, yes, if you no longer use a social media account, you should deactivate it. You’re not getting anything out of it any more and it’s a potential vulnerability, so why not remove the risk by removing the account?”
Facebook offers several choices for people who will no longer be using their accounts.
Deactivation: This option disables your public profile and removes your name and photo from most posts you’ve shared. No one will be able to find, view or post to your account, but all the content will still be there. You can reactivate your account and make it visible by simply logging into it again.
Deletion: Deleting a Facebook account permanently takes it off line and eliminates all the information it contained. This process can take up to 90 days. Facebook will ask if you want to download your information, including photos and other content. Once deleted, this information will no longer be available from Facebook.
Memorialization: When a Facebook user dies, the account may be memorialized by prior agreement or at the request of a family member. The word “Remembering” will be added beside the owner’s name and friends are permitted to post memories, photos and other content. A “legacy contact” may be designated to maintain the memorialized account.
Instructions for all these options, including how to request changes to the account of someone who has died or is otherwise unable to manage their own affairs, are available from your Facebook home page. Get started by clicking on the small inverted triangle at the right-hand end of the blue bar at the top of your profile page. Click on “settings” in the drop-down menu and then on “security” in the top left-hand corner of the the settings page. When the security settings list displays, “deactivate your account” is at the bottom. Click on this option for more information about deactivation, deletion and memorialization.
The Facebook help center is also a good resource. Get there by clicking on the inverted triangle and choosing “help” from the drop-down menu. Then enter a term, such as “legacy contact,” in the search box.
Alternately, Brazee said, users may be more successful simply using Google to ask a question such as “How can I permanently delete my Facebook account?” In addition, he said, public libraries, adult education programs and other community resources may be able to offer support. And his company, BoomerTech Adventures, is always available for private or group instructions.
In Holden, Claude O’Donnell has revised his plan and now aims to officially deactivate his account instead of just delete the app from his iPad. He Googled “how to terminate Facebook account” and found clear instructions for either deactivating or permanently closing his account.
“If that doesn’t work, I’m just going to ask my son how to get out of it,” he said.