It was misinformation and inflammatory posts from once-respected peers that sent Kaitlin, 29, a Los Angeles-based writer, recoiling from Instagram. “I was just exhausted from fighting with people,” she tells Bustle via Twitter DM, adding “I swear I’m nice,” with the innocent emoji. During lockdown, Kaitlin’s Instagram screen time became less about posting sunset pics and marveling over epic banana bread loaves, and more about turning her efforts to get people to “comprehend the gravity” of the public-health crisis. She’s been off Instagram for a few months after she reaching peak frustration with her feed.
While the app hit one billion monthly users in 2020, per Statista, 22% of Instagram users considered deleting the app the same year. When you take into account the fact that there wasn’t much to do in 2020 besides sit on Instagram, that’s a lot. The desire to delete Instagram coincides with a growing movement of people distancing themselves from their phones to improve sleep, decrease stress, and minimize time spent doomscrolling.
What’s more, the great Facebook outage of 2021 — where Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp went offline for more than five hours — made many realize that life without social media is actually kinda nice. If you can believe it, the outage occurred the same week as Senate subcommittee hearing in which a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower testified about the suite of apps’ harmful effects on wellbeing — and the extent to which the company knew about these dangers without making changes. (In response to a 60 Minutes interview where the whistleblower first shared these allegations, Facebook released an extensive statement refuting her claims to CBS.)
Between the outage, the hearings, and ongoing concerns about data privacy, you might be wondering how to delete Instagram more seriously than you used to. But simply deleting the Instagram app off your phone isn’t the same as deleting your account entirely. Here’s how to delete your Instagram account, along with reasons why people cut the cord.
Why People Delete Instagram
While logging out might help you cut back on screen time, deleting your account removes both the temptation to check back in and any evidence of your engagement on the app. It’s also a more permanent solution if you know the social network isn’t for you.
“I realized I wasn’t going to change minds or hearts and I didn’t like that it made me sad and angry,” Kaitlin says. And while she’s bummed to miss out the hot goss — “People don’t tell you things anymore. They figure you saw it on Instagram and fill you in on life events only when you specifically ask” — she doesn’t miss the mental toll the app took on her.
Delanie, 31, a business simplicity coach, officially quit Instagram on January 1, 2021, as a New Year’s resolution. She had wanted to delete the app for years, but was worried it would negatively impact her business and networking. But feelings of “inadequacy and mental anguish” inspired her break up with the ‘gram anyway. “Anytime I left the app, I felt drained, anxious, and my focus felt shot, even when I was looking at positive things and seeing nice messages.”
She started by cutting back to brief check-ins a few days a week, then a few times a month, then barely at all. “I was filled with a lot of FOMO when I thought about deleting it, worried that people would no longer be able to find me and my business would crumble, or that I would lose credibility because people couldn’t see my follower count, or I would become disconnected.” In reality, after Delanie deactivated Instagram, she reports improved mental health, more energy, deeper connections offline, and better business. “My revenue tripled that first month of being social media-free and I’m on track to more than double my annual revenue because I'm able to focus on the highest priority tasks with minimal distractions.” As of now, her plans for reactivating her account are scheduled for never o’clock. “I don’t miss it at all and I will never go back,” she tells Bustle.
Other reasons people might want to delete Instagram include privacy concerns, as the app collects data about who you talk to, what you look at, and where you are. While Instagram promises to anonymize and guard this information, data leaks do happen.
How To Delete Your Instagram Account
If you’re ready to cut ties with Instagram, head to the Delete Your Account webpage. You can find this by searching Help Center in your Settings, or by using the search bar on the Instagram mobile browser. (You can’t delete your Instagram account in-app.) Select a reason for deleting your account in the drop-down menu, and re-enter your password. Tap Delete [username], and all the data associated with your account will be erased.
That said, the process isn’t immediate. “It may take up to 90 days to make sure everything is deleted, as we make sure all of your account information is deleted — for example anything you've posted, your name in any tagged photos of you, hashtags you have followed,” a spokesperson for Instagram tells Bustle. So if you’re deleting your account for, say, work purposes, give yourself at least three months to wipe your digital footprint. (If you just want to keep prying eyes off your feed during an interview process, for example, you can make your Instagram profile private tapping your profile icon, then Settings, Privacy, and toggling Private Account on.)
Note that when you delete your account, you will lose all of your photos, likes, comments, followers, and saved content forever. Even your username is up for grabs once you let it go.
How To Deactivate Your Instagram Account
If that doesn’t sound good to you, you can temporarily disable your account instead. To do so, visit your Instagram profile on your web browser, tap Edit Profile, and tap, “Temporarily disable my account.” Doing so will do hide your profile, photos, comments, and likes until you reactivate the account, which you can do by simply logging back in.
If you’re not sure what you want to do, but know you need a break, deleting the Instagram app from your phone will leave your profile discoverable, but require you to re-download the app in order to sign in.
What Happens If You Delete Your Instagram?
While it might seem like the deletion process is over once you make the choice to part ways with the app, removing your profile and data isn’t that straightforward. According to cybersecurity expert Kristina Podnar, “Social media platforms use backups of their data in case of an outage or a need to restore servers due to a cyberattack — so when a social media app says that it is deleting a user’s data, it is not deleting it from the backup.” Plus, Podnar notes, Instagram has no control over third party apps that you’ve given access to your Instagram photos, like dating apps or photo-editing platforms — those apps may keep their own backups. (You can see which apps have access to your Instagram by going to Settings, tapping Security, and clicking Apps and Websites.)
As for the kind of invisible data that you will leave behind — like metadata from your photos, device and transaction information, and interactions you’ve had — there’s a lot. But you can see for yourself. “When people delete their accounts, we allow them download a copy of their account data,” the Instagram spokesperson tells Bustle. To find your data, head to your profile, tap Settings, Security, and then tap Download Data. There, you’ll enter the email address where you'd like to receive a link to your data and tap Request Download. You’ll have to enter your password to confirm the request, and you’ll receive a copy within 48 hours. This file will include photos and comments as well as metadata, in case you want to keep that info.
Still, Podnar says, “Nothing deleted is really deleted in the digital world,” since even safe platforms like Instagram are vulnerable to hacks. “The best you can hope for is that it isn’t as easy to find, but in reality, once you establish a social media account and provide your information, the platform has it forever,” she adds. So if you’re worried about the narrative your digital footprint might tell, you might want to refrain from sharing in the first place.
Kristina Podnar, cybersecurity expert
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