Give me Plausible Deniability or Give me Death

5 Jun

How the Facebook Message Seen Feature Changes Communication

Peakaboo Kid

Photo credit to teamskins

Recently, Facebook introduced a feature that allows you to see when someone’s viewed one of your messages.  It’s basically a read receipt for Facebook messages, except that the other person doesn’t have to agree to send it to you.  There’s no polite Outlook pop-up saying, “The sender of this message has requested a read receipt.  Do you want to send a receipt?”  With Facebook, you don’t have a choice about sending a message seen receipt – it happens automatically.

Facebook’s new feature lets you know that your message has been viewed, but that’s not the same thing as saying that your message has been read.  My Facebook sends messages directly to my phone, my computer, and my iPad – at least two of which are usually within a few feet of me at any given time (yes, even when I’m in bed).  The screens flash at me when I have a message, which usually (especially if I’m tired) causes me to mash my fingers around the nearest screen until the blinking stops.  In Facebook’s mind (let’s just admit that Facebook is sentient and get over it), I’ve viewed the message and it can go ahead and alert the other person to the fact that their message has been read.  But in reality, all I’ve done is the digital equivalent of hitting my alarm clock until it stops ringing.  To continue the metaphor, it doesn’t mean that I’m actually awake or getting out of bed.

Orange Alarm Clock

Photo credit to Alan Cleaver

Because of my “OMG will you please stop blinking!” fumblings, a lot of my Facebook friends probably get alerted to the fact that I’ve viewed their messages when that’s not actually the case.  And then they might wonder why I’m not responding when I don’t even know that I have something that I’m supposed to respond to.  (Cause, clearly, they just moon around waiting for responses from me all day, right?)

Aside from people waiting for a response to messages that I don’t know about, there are also the people waiting for responses to messages that I do know about but that I’m, for one reason or another, choosing not to respond to at this time.  Sometime it’s a message from a friend that deserves a thoughtful response, not something I can swipe on my phone at a red light. (Not that I would ever do that…)  Other times it’s an invitation that I’m not sure I want to accept.  Still other times it’s a message from a creepy guy at the gym to which I will never respond.  (Ah, the joys of being the new girl in a small town.)

Mail Boxes

Photo credit to mbgrigby

I don’t like the idea of people thinking that I’m choosing not to respond to them, even if it is true.  I want the plausible deniability that the invitation got lost in the mail, or “Gee, sorry, I didn’t see that I had a missed call and you know I never check my voice mails.”  I don’t want to be obligated to acknowledge or respond to every communication that I receive.  I know that message seen receipts don’t force me to respond, but they make me look like a bitch if I don’t do so.  And, I don’t really need any help in the looking bitchy department.

My personal reputation aside, instant delivery confirmation changes something fundamental about communication.  There’s romance in waiting for your message to be delivered, in the anticipation of a response.  There’s something offputting about the instant gratification of digital communication and about the way that it coerces you into instantly gratifying your correspondents.

Peakaboo kid

Photo credit to Micha Taylor

My reactions to this are both high minded and low, but I’m not the only one reacting to it.  Although Facebook’s chat and message FAQs don’t include information on the topic, Yahoo Answers and the Facebook help section are riddled with users asking how to disable message seen alerts.  Unfortunately, as of yet, there’s no way to disable the feature.  So I guess, for the time being, we’re all stuck with being a little too honest about the fact that we ignore our friends… or maybe just about the fact that we sleep with our cell phones.

Questions of the day: What do you think about Facebook’s message seen feature?  Does it bother you?  If so, are the reasons why high minded or low?


Formerly MaggieCakes, Maggie (not Margaret) covers technology’s impact on culture, specifically on how we interact or connect with each other. Have a question or an idea you’d like me to write about? Leave a comment, or send me an e-mail: moc.teragramtoneiggam@eiggam

5 Responses to “Give me Plausible Deniability or Give me Death”

  1. minnesotatransplant June 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    Facebook clearly has a “no privacy” agenda — we can’t even be privately bitchy! But this doesn’t bother me. The trick here is understanding the illlusion that every message is important. Almost no messages are important. Especially from Facebook. If someone urgently needs to tell me at 11 p.m. at night that someone dear to me has died and they need a “receipt” for proof that I know this awful news, then they can call me. I don’t sleep with my phone, and I don’t tolerate any blinking/chirping irritations when I’m “offline” (i.e., sleeping, having sex, getting bitchy with someone). And I can train myself not to read messages until I have time to actually READ them; my friends don’t leave messages like I leave blog replies. They’re more succinct.

  2. The Politically Incorrect Asshole June 8, 2012 at 10:22 am #

    YES!!! I was searching google for someone who agrees with me for this.
    I like to reply to messages later so that I can give a good reply and imply that I am busy.
    If I read a message and don’t reply immediately, the person might think I am a complete douche.
    Next up they will probably have how many people viewed your profile… If that ever happens I am going to be fucking pissed off.

    • arlene August 25, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

      Honestly if Facebook ever did have a newer…feature…say..what you just mentioned…VIEWING PROFILE NUMBER…I would surely die. It would be nice, if like prior…Myspace..let us spy on the people who viewed our profiles and HOW MANY TIMES. But to know how many people are just randomly visiting and NO NAMES…defeats the whole effect of why facebook was made. To spy on people and let we do it all, unfortunately.

  3. Vicki - Glitter Frog August 8, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    Maybe I’m bitchier than you…I really don’t care if they know I got their message or not! I’m also not above not hiding from the window when someone I don’t want to talk to is knocking on my door. Yes, I know you can see me…and I’m ignoring you ANYWAY. But, my real friends already know this about me so it doesn’t seem to bother them if I don’t reply right away. Or sometimes not at all.

    I have really good friends.

    • Maggie O'Toole August 18, 2012 at 9:45 am #

      I think most of my friends would understand that I’m too busy to respond at the moment, but some would probably have their feeling hurt and then send me “Why are you ignoring me?” messages, which I’d promptly ignore. (As you can see, there’s a vicious circle inherent in this.)

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