Think Your Deleted Facebook Posts Are Really Deleted? Guess Again

Facebook is tricky. The site layout changes all the time, with menus, settings, and the like moving around, disappearing, reappearing, and being reworked with a slightly different name. Despite that, deleting a post from your Timeline seems mercifully easy: You just click the little icon in the upper right corner of a given post and then click Delete. Boom, done. Except apparently, that post isn’t actually deleted.

Laura of “The Well-Prepared Mind” wrote a blog post detailing how she deleted everything on her Timeline, only to log back in some time later and find that everything had been restored. She says she did this twice, and sure enough, all those items are back.

Facebook Timeline
This doesn't actually delete anything

So what gives? A Facebook engineer named Scott Renfro commented on her post with some very revealing information. “We’ve put a lot of work into making deletions permanent, so I can imagine how frustrated you must be,” he wrote. “I’m pretty sure those story deletions are permanent, and I can’t think of any place where we can or do automatically restore user-deleted content months later.” Then he added, “I couldn’t tell from your description, but one possibility is that you only saw and deleted the stories rendered on your Timeline, which is just a summary of your activity.”

Ah, there’s the key: If Timeline is just a summary of your activity, then deleting something within Timeline doesn’t mean that it’s gone, because the actual data is kept elsewhere.

Activity Log
Activity Log

Renfro linked to a Facebook help page about the Activity Log, which is clearly the place where you can actually delete items from your account. The Help page reads, under the Control What Goes On Your Timeline heading: “You also have the option to delete anything you post on Facebook.” It’s just that in order to do so, you have to delete an item from your Activity Log, or else it will persist, and it could even reappear on your Timeline if Facebook’s mighty algorithm deems it so.

Technically, Laura’s complaint that deleted items from her Facebook account reappeared is not valid insofar as she never actually deleted any content. However, she made the point that if Facebook provides you with a “Delete” button, that button should certainly delete something, which is totally valid.

Facebook delete
Yes, we're sure

She’s right to be annoyed, and that’s part of a larger point to be made here. Facebook is completely obtuse when it comes to helping users understand how to fine-tune their experience. Whether that’s sloppy UI design or deliberate deception is impossible to determine.

True, we are all responsible for what we do, post, and share online, and anytime Facebook or another entity responds to a user complaint by pointing out that the user himself failed to read the terms and conditions or adjust a certain setting correctly, the entity is correct--technically.

But in this particular case, and likely in many others, Facebook is embodying deceitfulness.