Today it is easy to immortalise ourselves by accident. It simply takes existing online.
The cloud, which holds our photos and status updates (among other more ominous metadata), seems omniscient and constant. But what if we begin to feel uncomfortable about the footprints we’ve left across it?
What if we would rather not leave years of holiday albums, new car and partner announcements, thoughtless opinion dumps and drunk timeline photos on the internet for anyone to see until the end of time?
Following Facebook’s move in 2010, online spaces and social networks such as Google and Twitter have begun introducing native archive tools to their platforms. By enabling you to download a copy of your site history, archive tools help manage your digital presence without erasing it entirely.
Different platforms offer different archive and download processes.
Facebook makes archiving relatively easy. While logged into your account, start by finding the down-facing arrow in the top right corner of the screen and click “Settings”. This will take you to a page with sub-buttons listed on the left-hand side. There, find and click “Your Facebook information”.
Among options to view your Facebook browsing history, temporarily deactivate or permanently delete your account, is a subsection that reads: “Download your information.”
From there, follow the pop-up instructions that take you to “Create file”. Wait for your data to prepare, click “Download” and you are ready to go.
The downloaded Zip will include a file labelled “index.htm”. This is the easy-to-navigate copy of your Facebook profile.
On top of the usual stuff – profile pictures, videos, statuses, messages, friends – will be data you may not know was being collected. Like the time and location of every Facebook login you have made and the keywords used to target ads to you.
Over on Instagram, the process is similar. On your profile page, click the three lines in the top right corner; the Menu button. There, search “Download data”, enter your email address and wait patiently for a link to be sent containing a copy of your profile.
Then you can deactivate or delete your profile without losing anything you’ve put into it.
If you would rather archive specific photos on your Instagram page without downloading and deleting your entire profile, there is an option for that too, albeit a very tedious, manual one (you’ll have to go through each picture one by one).
While the process is less streamlined on Twitter, various services exist to make managing your Twitter history easier. The Verge has a comprehensive guide to Twitter cleanups that includes reviews of free and paid services.
Depending on the platform, archiving and erasing your digital presence is a simple, one-and-done addition to your life admin to-do list.
But if it all gets too complex, don’t forget there exists an easier option: all it takes is turning all your social media accounts, and digital life, to “Private”.