The Industry

If You Delete Facebook, Do You Also Have to Delete Instagram and WhatsApp?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg looks at his phone.
Mark Zuckerberg owns all the social networks.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Let’s say you’ve finally had it with Facebook. Whether it’s the privacy scandals, the data breaches, the fake news, the Soros-smearing affair, the deference to the far right, or even the alleged bias against conservatives, you’re ready to cut ties and move on.

But another dilemma quickly confronts you. If you quit Facebook, do you have to quit the whole company? Or is there a reasonable case to be made for sticking with Facebook subsidiaries Instagram and Whatsapp, even while you ditch the big blue app?

There’s an emerging conventional wisdom that abandoning Facebook but staying on Instagram and Whatsapp is self-defeating, nonsensical, or a copout. Quartz’s Mike Murphy wrote, “You’re not quitting Facebook if you still use Instagram and Whatsapp.” Writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner earnestly wondered how one could justify quitting just one and not the others. BuzzFeed editor Ryan Broderick went further, comparing quitting Facebook but not Instagram to “giving up oxycodone but sticking with heroin.”

Here’s the thing: Quitting Facebook is hard. Quitting all of Facebook’s properties is harder still—especially if you find Snapchat confusing and Twitter hostile, overwhelming, or unrewarding. And while staying on Instagram or Whatsapp might undermine some aspects of the decision to leave Facebook, it isn’t a crazy middle ground, depending on what you’re trying to achieve.

If your goal is to opt out of Facebook’s digital surveillance apparatus altogether, then you probably should quit Instagram and Whatsapp too—along with Messenger and Oculus VR. But beware that you won’t have totally escaped the social network. First of all, deactivating your accounts isn’t enough—you have to take a series of extra steps to delete all your data. Even then, we now know that Facebook has granted numerous other companies and developers access to your data, so some of it will remain out there, in unknown hands. Facebook also continues to do at least some tracking of people who aren’t users at all.

That said, there are plenty of other reasons you might want to quit Facebook.

First, to limit your personal data exposure. Facebook proper almost certainly collects more types of information on you than do its subsidiaries, because it’s integrated into so many facets of the wider internet. It has a far more extensive track record of granting access to that data to third parties. It attracts more advertisers than Instagram (although Instagram’s ad business is growing fast), and Whatsapp still doesn’t have ads at all (although it will soon). In short, the scale of Facebook’s personal data-gathering operation is much greater than that of its sibling apps. Not that you should count on it staying that way forever, but if you’re a privacy pragmatist, quitting Facebook probably gets you farther than quitting Instagram or Whatsapp. Oh, and Facebook is the one that has actually been hacked.

Second, to protest its effects on democracy and the media. It’s clear now that Facebook wasn’t the only social network exploited by Russian trolls. But even if foreign agents are building brands on YouTube and Instagram as well, Facebook served as a focal point for Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election, including groups formed to push polarizing memes and even organize real-world protests. And forget Russia for a second: Facebook’s news feed has put the entire journalism industry through a wood-chipper, chewing up credible outlets whose headlines weren’t sensational enough and spitting out fly-by-night fake news and propaganda shops. Instagram memes can be misleading or harmful, and WhatsApp groups can spread hate and fuel violence, especially outside the U.S. where the app is used for more than just messaging. But neither has upended the information economy to the same degree as Facebook itself. To put it another way: Neither was as complicit as Facebook in the horror show of an election cycle that gave us President Trump.

But here’s the most underrated reason why it might make sense for people to quit Facebook, even if they can’t bring themselves to quit the other two right now: For many, Facebook just isn’t as fun anymore. This is not universally true, of course. Some people find the perfect-looking lives depicted on Instagram more depressing than keeping up with their friends and family on Facebook. Many Americans have no use for WhatsApp at all, especially if they don’t have close friends or family abroad. That said, there plenty of others for whom Facebook has become the most dispensable of the three. It’s less intimate, less focused, and more filled with distant acquaintances, forgotten high-school classmates, and irksome uncles. And despite changes to the news feed aimed at making it more personal, there are still plenty of spammy headlines and manipulative videos to sift through.

All of which is to say: You don’t have to quit any social network. Even just spending less time on the ones that bother you most can be salutary. But if you do want to vote with your feet, #deletefacebook is not the worst place to start. And you aren’t necessarily naïve or a hypocrite if you stay on Instagram, Whatsapp, or both.

After all, the unfortunate reality is that there aren’t a lot of prominent social networks that Facebook doesn’t own.