Facebook's Sneaky Backdoor Follow Feature

DoorFacebook just made a major change on how Friend Requests work. Previously you could “Add as Friend”, “Ignore” or mark as “Don’t know”. Friday the 17th, Facebook change the options to “Confirm” and “Not Now”. On the surface that doesn’t seem like a big deal. But the devil is in the details.

Choosing the “Not Now” button doesn’t outright reject the request. You have to indicate that you don’t know the individual. If you skip this step, the request moves to hidden status. This means that the individual doesn’t appear in your list of Friend Requests (or Friends), but now your public updates are also added to the individual’s news feed. As many have noted, this is strikingly like Twitter.

Your public updates are those updates that have been marked “Everyone” and anyone can go to your Facebook wall and see them. If you haven’t done so already, now’s the time to adjust your privacy settings so that your updates are restricted. Many users don’t realize that their updates are by default public, and now their updates will be more easily available regardless of their intentions.

In typical Facebook fashion, the changes were made without any serious attempt to notify users. We first learned about it from Inside Facebook. According to TechCrunch, “Facebook says this feature is to help with overly aggressive friending behavior.” We’re not buying it. How does 1) requiring 2 steps to deny a Friend Request, and 2) not clearly indicating the actions needed help? It’s more likely that this is another step on the path to the Twitterification of Facebook. That’s okay with us. We just want Facebook to be more transparent about changes they make and allow us to opt-in rather than sneaking them in through a backdoor.

Originally published in our newsletter last week, this topic is so important it bears repeating.