Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to Disappear from Facebook and Twitter

Need to disappear from Facebook or Twitter? Now you can scrub yourself from the Internet with Web 2.0 Suicide Machine, a nifty service that purges your online presence from these all-consuming social networks. Since its Dec. 19 launch, Suicide Machine has assisted more than 1,000 virtual deaths, severing more than 80,500 friendships on Facebook and removing some 276,000 tweets from Twitter.

Once you hand over your log-in details and click Commit, the program will methodically delete your info — Twitter tweets, MySpace contacts, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections — much like users could do manually. What remains is a brittle cyberskeleton: a profile with no data. Users seem to love it. Testimonials range from joyous farewells ("Goodbye, cruel world!") to good-riddance denouements ("Thank you, microblogging. You are, in fact, totally useless"). Suicide Machine is so popular that thousands of people are waiting their turn for their own cyberoffing. "Our server is so busy handling the requests," says Suicide Machine co-creator Walter Langelaar. (See the 50 best websites of 2009.)

But be warned: As in life, resurrection is impossible. Going through the process means that your Web doppelgänger will croak for good. When it does, you'll receive a cybermemorial on the site. RIP, 2.0. We'll miss you.

What appeals to many of the site's boosters is the simplicity of the exit. When trying to close an online account, users are often asked to fill out a questionnaire. More important, their information and connections aren't then erased; they're just unpublished. By deleting all your data, Suicide Machine says, your private information is snuffed out on website servers. (See the top 10 Facebook stories of 2009.)

Not everyone thinks the proposition is so cool. The uptick in social suicides has put Facebook in a tizzy. In an e-mail to Suicide Machine's founders — Langelaar, 32; Gordan Savicic, 30; and Danya Vasiliev, 31 — Facebook demanded that they "cease this activity immediately," citing a violation of users' privacy. But the founders disagree, saying users voluntarily hand over their log-in details. Though Facebook blocked Suicide Machine from accessing its site earlier this month, Suicide Machine's creators, and the suicides, are continuing. "Compared to the more than 350 million users [on Facebook], we think deleting a few hundred is not very impressive," says Langelaar. "But they picked up on it as a potential threat." LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter have not yet publicly responded.

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