The Most Important Messages Facebook Hid from Slate Readers

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 12 2011 5:47 PM

Facebook’s “Social Inbox” Fiasco: Slate Readers Respond

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On Friday, Slate ran an article by Elizabeth Weingarten examining Facebook’s “Social Inbox” feature, which sorts messages from friends and friends of friends into a user’s main inbox, and files the rest in an “Other” folder—unbeknownst, it appears, to most Facebook users. Slate staffers weren’t the only ones missing messages. We received an outpouring of responses from readers who reported lost messages from friends, employers, and—just as in Elizabeth’s case—good Samaritans looking to return lost possessions.

“I lost my wallet a month ago, and as soon as I read this, went to my ‘Other’ folder and lo and behold, there was a message from over a month ago saying that someone had found my wallet,” wrote Michael Stafford Gelberg. “UN FREAKING BELIEVABLE. I just hope he had the heart to hold on to it for this long.” At least two other readers discovered similar messages, one after losing an iPod Touch, and the other after losing a work-issued laptop last April.

Melissa Zentgraf, a professional recruiter, wrote that she missed around ten messages from friends of friends who were interested in positions she was recruiting for. “So not only do I lose business, I look like a beyotch to the friends who referred them to me,” she said. “Actually explains why one person has been giving me the cold shoulder lately.”

Other missed messages were more personal. “An old acquaintance passed away and I sent flowers to the funeral,” wrote a reader with the handle tnmke. “Shortly after that, his ex-girlfriend contacted me on Facebook at the request of his parents. They wondered who I was, and I guess they wanted to piece together as much of their son’s life as they could. Facebook put this important message in the ‘Other’ folder and I didn’t see it for months. I did reply and apologized for the delay, but I haven’t heard back. Perhaps my message ended up in her ‘Other’ folder.”

Some stories sounded perhaps too dramatic to believe. “Three years ago I spent a semester abroad in Argentina, where I met this woman who was studying for medical school in Seville,” wrote Jason Ross. “I just checked my ‘other’ [folder] and found that she is back living in Spain, and the mother of my 2-year-old twins! Imagine how your life changes with one e-mail. Thank you, Facebook!!”

There were, to be fair, a handful of comments from people who had noticed the Other tab before seeing the article. And plenty of the readers who had not checked the Other folder before found nothing in there but spam. Some readers suggested that, because Facebook does not charge people to use the site, it is silly to get angry at the company. But because many of the missed messages were personal in nature, emotion was hard to avoid. “Since April 2010,” one reader wrote, “I have lost my 20-year-old daughter, both my parents and a sister. There were over 60 message[s] from old friends and relatives that I never saw. Stop treating us like children, Facebook. Epic Fail.”

You can see more responses to the story in this video created by the popular tech website Mashable. For now, it remains impossible to get e-mail notifications for your Other messages, so, as Weingarten writes, if you want to ensure you don’t miss any potentially important messages, you have to make checking the folder a part of your daily Facebook routine. For details on how to do so, read the original piece—and let us know what you find.

Sonia Tsuruokai is a Slate intern.

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