Why Did Facebook Hide a Message About My Lost Laptop?

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
Dec. 9 2011 11:22 AM

Furious at Facebook Again!

When a man tried to return my lost laptop, Facebook hid his messages from me. How come?

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Before the Social Inbox, all messages trickled into a user’s central inbox. But since the switch, messages don’t appear in the main inbox unless they’re from friends or friends-of-friends. Messages sent to mailing lists and broad distribution groups are also sifted out. Last November’s messaging revamp also introduced Facebook email and text messaging. Both must be activated before they work. If you activate Facebook email (at the top of your Messages landing page) or turn on text messaging, those messages will also filter into your main Social Inbox.

To be clear, I haven’t activated those new features: My problem was with only the most basic Facebook messages. And when I sent those angry emails to my colleagues, none of them knew about the Other tab either. Granted, a fair amount of what they discovered there was spam. Double X editor Kate Julian discovered this gem in her inbox from Scott, a “widow”: “hello kate, hello pretty,how re you ?my name is Scott,am sngle,am a widow...i saw your profile now then i decided to mail you...you look so good,i will love to know more about you ...do take care.”

But not all the missing messages were like this. Slate reporter Will Oremus uncovered two messages of note: one from a recruiter at another news organization asking if he was interested in a job opening there (“Good thing I wasn’t!” Will told me) and one from someone “whose father’s death I reported on a few years ago.” The second message began: “You’re the most disgusting man on this earth. Even three plus years later, hearing your name makes me want to throw up.”

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Will wasn’t too upset to have missed these, but other Slate colleagues had missed messages they would actually have liked to receive. “I missed an invitation to be on Israeli TV, about 20 really nice notes about my Facebook birthdays piece, a whole bunch of Gabfest fan mail, and a howdy from some cousin I don’t know,” Slate Editor David Plotz told me. Deputy Editor Julia Turner also missed something she would have liked to get:

I missed a great story circulated by my first New York roommates about how our scuzzball landlord is now embroiled in a legal fracas for renting a 1.5 million Tribeca apartment to a guy who runs a basement sex loft out of it offering “flaming massages.” The neighbors are so mad they keep smearing dog feces on the door! I could have lived without this news, but I’m happier now that I have it.

So how can you make sure you find your lost laptop, appear on Israeli TV, and respond immediately to job offers? Unfortunately, the Facebook rep informed me, you can’t change your settings to get email notifications for your Other messages, the way you can for your main messages. Your best bet: Make checking the Other tab part of your daily Facebook routine.

I called my laptop guardian angel a few hours later. As it turns out, he is Ralph Nakash, one of the Israeli founders of Jordache Enterprises. (They do more than jeans, apparently.) It was his secretary who sent me those helpful Facebook messages. When I spoke to him, he asked me why it took me so long to reply. I explained Facebook’s crazy system for filing messages. He invited me to have coffee with him at New York’s Jordache offices next time I’m in town. I thanked him profusely. His secretary agreed to FedEx the laptop.

So do I curse Facebook because it hid Nakash’s messages, or praise it for allowing him to get in touch? I’m going to do both. Thanks, Facebook, for helping this nice man return my laptop. But please try to explain your services better. I suspect many people would be grateful.

Elizabeth Weingarten is the associate editor at New America and the associate director of its Global Gender Parity Initiative.

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