Facebook ‘Message Requests’ lets you contact anyone, even if you’re not friends

Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger

Chat-happy Facebookers rejoice!

Speaking with random strangers just became a whole lot easier with a new service called “Message Requests.”

No more will your idle Messenger musings be sent to the endless purgatory known as the “Other Inbox” – a place so obscure it didn’t even appear in iOS or Android renditions of the popular social network – when sent to non-friends or non-friends-of-friends.

Instead, says Messenger chief David Marcus, such important missives will now be given the level of prominence they deserve, appearing as a message request along with an appropriate notification.

Taking to his own Facebook account, Marcus wrote “Now, the only thing you need to talk to virtually anyone in the world, is their name,” before defining the one and only rule for the new Message Requests feature:

The rule is pretty simple: If you're friends on Facebook, if you have each other's contact info in your phone and have these synced, or if you have an existing open thread, the new messages from that sender will be routed to your inbox.

Everything else will now be a message request, minus spam attempts that we will continue to ruthlessly combat.

To help combat the threat of having a weirdo hassle you after a drunken chat in the pub, Facebook has designed Message Requests in a way that gives you just enough information to know who has contacted you – you’ll see their name, profile picture, some other publicly available information and a list of any mutual friends – as well as an ability to completely blow them off without them knowing whether you read their message or not.

When you receive such a message you will have the option of responding to it – which will cause the message thread to be transferred to your normal inbox – or completely ignore it, in which case it will be hidden away in the Filtered Requests folder, along with anything Facebook has identified as being spam.

And if you do delete or ignore one of these unsolicited messages, the sender will never be able to contact you again – an improvement of sorts over the current situation which may see you forced to exchange phone numbers or friend requests for what should be a one-off personal or business conversation.

Talking to TechCrunch, Tony Leach, Messenger’s Product Manager, spun the release of Message Requests as an opportunity for Facebook users to connect with long-lost family members and kindly strangers:

We've heard so many stories like estranged parents trying to get back in touch, or you lost your wallet and someone trying to get in touch with you. 

That's why we want to replace that with a system that makes it a lot easier to catch the messages that you want to see. 

A level of openness where you can get in touch with anyone in the world but still have the control yourself of who contacts you and who can't.

Of course Facebook itself will undoubtedly reap the benefits of an enhanced Messenger too – by allowing its users to make contact with any one of the 1.5 billion people already using the social network, uptake of Messenger is only likely to grow from its current base of 700 million active users.

Describing the change to Messenger, which is due to roll out over the next few days, as “small,” Marcus suggested the “foundational development” was just the beginning as the Facebook team continues “to improve ways to find the people you want to communicate with.”

Brits interested in taking advantage of the new feature may have to act quickly though – Facebook Messenger, along with the likes of Snapchat and WhatsApp, could still be under threat from Home Secretary Theresa May and the yet-to-be ratified Investigatory Powers Bill, which seeks to outlaw the use of encryption with some apps, as well as force service providers to hand communications data to authorities when asked for.