Control Facebook

Q: Please tell me how to get out of Facebook. How do I refuse an invitation? Thanks.

— Cynthia

A: Internet social networks are one of the most important innovations in human history. They've led to life-and-death revolutions, in addition to marriages, divorces, business deals, job dismissals and a surfeit of personal minutiae that you can indulge in or ignore.

But sooner or later, everyone needs a break from something — or in Cynthia's case, someone — no matter how earth-shaking. Here's how to control Facebook, instead of letting Facebook control you.

Lower your profile

If you want to stay on Facebook but keep a low profile, change your privacy settings to determine who can see your Facebook postings: Everyone, Friends of Friends, Friends or Only Me. Click the down-pointing triangle on the top right part of any Facebook page to open your account menu and choose Privacy Settings. Next to the How You Connect heading, click Edit Settings and set your preferences.

Choosing your friends

Maybe you want to stay active on Facebook but just politely avoid one particular person or ignore your group invitations. You can do it without giving yourself away by clicking just to the right of the word "Facebook" on the top left. That opens your Requests lists (to the right of that icon is a link to your group invitations), where you'll find all the people who want to "friend" you. To decline a Friend request, click Not Now. That hides the request (unless you later click to see your Hidden Requests).

The person on the other end won't receive a warning and likely will assume you just aren't checking your Requests. That might prompt him or her to write you a message, and another and another and another until you answer (unless you've changed your Privacy Settings to accept messages from Friends Only).

Get outta my Facebook

To keep that person from bothering you, you can block him or her. Find the botherer's request, and if you've already clicked Not Now, Facebook will ask "Do you know (requester's name) outside of Facebook?" Click No and that person won't be able to send you another request, and he or she will get a message saying so.

Next, go to that person's Facebook page, click the down-pointing area near his or her name and choose Unfriend. Facebook won't tell the blockee what you've done, but your name will disappear from your former pal's list of friends.

Make everything go away

Now if you want to disappear from Facebook, you have two options: You can deactivate your profile (temporary) or you can delete your account (permanent). If you deactivate, you'll have to wait 24 hours to reactivate.

Temporary: The first step is deactivating your account, which removes your profile and all information associated with it from Facebook immediately. People on Facebook will not be able to search for you or view any of your information.

Facebook saves your friends, photos, interests, etc., just in case you want to come back at some point. If you choose to reactivate your account, everything will look just the way it did when you left.

To deactivate, click the account menu at the top right of any Facebook page, then choose Account Settings, select Security from the left-hand menu and click on Deactivate your account.

Permanent: After you've deactivated, send Facebook a delete request at (make sure you're logged in. You won't be able to regain access to your account again, and all personally identifiable information associated with your account is removed from Facebook's database: your name, email address, mailing address, and IM screen name. If you log in again, though, you undo your pending deletion request.

Your new free time

What should you do with your life now that you aren't spending hours a day on Facebook? You might want to check out the new book "I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy," by Lori Andrews, published by Free Press.

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