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Facebook’s update could let random people send you messages… for a price

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Lauren Granger
While studying towards her Bachelor of Journalism degree at Rhodes University, Lauren gave into her fascination with everything digital. As she was more interested in creeping... More

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Facebook is rolling out another batch of upgrades to its messaging service. This time, they largely have to do with the mysterious section of your inbox you probably never check, called ‘other’. Facebook is worried that messages you may actually want to read would end up hidden away in there, so it has changed the filtering options to limit the chances of that happening. Oh, and it has started testing a system to let people you don’t know pay them to send you messages.

According to the social network, it is starting a “small experiment to test the usefulness of economic signals to determine relevance”. By “economic”, it means that, for a small fee, messages from people that are not even in your extended networks can send you messages that will appear in your main inbox.

Facebook hopes that this will make the messages you receive from outsiders more relevant, as, theoretically, anyone willing to pay to send you a message should have something of value to say. It says that “several commentators and researchers have noted that imposing a financial cost on the sender may be the most effective way to discourage unwanted messages”. The option will only be available for a small test group in the US at this stage, who will be limited to routing one message to their main inbox per week.

The company is also changing the way it filters messages. Previously, you could set up the privacy options so that groups like “friends only”, “everyone” or “friends of friends” could send you messages. Now there are only two options: strict filtering (which “mostly” shows messages from your friends in your inbox) and basic filtering (which allows friends of friends and people you may know to send you messages that will appear in your main inbox). If your ‘who can send me messages’ option was previously set to “friends of friends” or “everyone”, you’ll automatically be moved over to the basic option.

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These changes seem to be largely driven by Facebook’s new app for Android, which allows anyone to use Facebook messenger with just a name and phone number, even if they don’t have an account with the social network. If you set your messaging to ‘basic filtering’, anyone who uses this app and has access to your cellphone number can send you a message that will appear in your main inbox.

If you enable basic filtering, messages from people who manage to get hold of your easily attainable Facebook email address (hint: it starts with the username that follows facebook.com/ when you view a profile page and ends with @facebook.com) will also appear in your inbox.

While they are designed to prevent you from missing important messages, the updates have arguably opened up avenues for way more annoying notifications from messages from people you don’t really know who have your phone number or your username, particularly if you select the ‘basic filtering’ option. But you can, of course, still move the messages to the other section, or delete them, or report them as spam.