What Would An “Unsend” Feature in Messenger Do to Facebook?

Have you ever sent a message in the heat of the moment that you’d like to take back before the person on the other end has a chance to open it? Although this isn’t currently possible, Facebook might actually include this feature in Messenger, allowing people to “unsend” messages, presumably under certain conditions. It gives users a unique way to have power over their presence on the platform, but it also comes with a load of implications that could possibly even lead to legal issues.

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The motive behind the move to let users get their hands on such a powerful feature comes from a scandal that occurred on April 6, 2018, when TechCrunch revealed that Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook’s CEO – had exclusive access to a feature that would redact his messages. At least three high0-profile anonymous people revealed that messages that Zuckerberg sent them were erased from their inboxes while their replies to what now appears to be absolutely nothing remain.

To avoid any outrage, a few hours later the company announced that it pinky-promises not to allow executives to have access to this feature until all of the platform’s users can unsend their messages.

This move might have come as a result of making Zuckerberg appear as if though he were beta-testing the feature. Officially, Facebook reasons that it deleted its CEO’s messages for security reasons related to the massive breach Sony Pictures suffered in 2014. Here’s a statement from the company in that regard:

After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014, we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications. These included limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages in Messenger. We did so in full compliance with our legal obligations to preserve messages.

It is unlikely that Zuckerberg’s messages were anything necessarily incriminating since someone would have leaked what little they could find in the transcript to break a story about it. However, the implications and lack of transparency may have been troubling were it not for the fact that the company is making efforts to have such a feature available for all users “in the next several months” after this scandal broke out.

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By unsending a message, you’re not only deleting it from your own inbox but also manipulating the inbox of the recipient. This can lead to some issues that complicate legal proceedings that rely on electronic correspondence like Facebook messages as evidence. In the cybersecurity community, there’s a little something called “transcript consistency,” which is precious when presenting evidence to a court. If you have a message stream from a platform that has consistency, it is more likely to be admitted into evidence.

If “unsending” is possible on Facebook Messenger, the platform loses its transcript consistency, leading to legal situations in which one cannot determine the cause and effect of certain reactions. How do we know, for example, that a person isn’t just talking to themselves, mimicking someone replying to messages that have been erased?

In another note, everyone could theoretically benefit from an “unsend” feature as long as it’s only available before the person on the other end first opens their message. Then again, this eliminates the incentive for people to think about their messages before they send them.

Features like these aren’t new. AOL’s email service once had this feature back when it was an Internet service provider in the late 90s. You could only “unsend” email messages sent to other AOL users, however. This primitive implementation didn’t necessarily spark a whole lot of controversy. And to be fair, Gmail also has this feature (Settings -> Undo Send), but it only allows you to “undo” your sent messages during a brief window of time. It quietly stows your message away during that window and sends them only if you haven’t taken any action to “undo” the message.

Maybe Facebook can implement “unsend” in this way.

What do you think? How should Facebook’s “unsend” feature work so that everyone is satisfied? Tell us about it in a comment!

3 comments

  1. A GMail-like window of a few seconds in which one could “unsend” would be a great feature. I recently needed it—I was looking for a GIF to send my wife, but Messenger decided that my swipe was a tap, and sent a GIF that I had no intention of sending. It didn’t even wait for me to tell it to send it, it just sent it at once. My wife thought it was hilarious, but I’m still grumpy about it.
    I enabled the “unsend” option in GMail after the cat helped me discover that Ctrl+Enter=Send. Also, I don’t fill in the recipient name on emails until I’m ready to send them, so they can’t be sent accidentally.

  2. As far as I see it? FB….Twitter and the like……are a dying breed. They had their time in the sun, and people just aren’t as interested as they once were in keeping tabs on the pet lovers who constantly post videos of their cute dog,……cat…..goldfish….turtle…..rabbit….cow…horse etc. Folks are also not paying as much attention to the foolish so called “fake-news” stories that are posted either. Seems the users who were once “flamers” and trolls are now too busy taking care of their kids to be relevant anymore. As for the “Next Generation”? I feel somewhat relieved as my 17 yr old son told me he’s about to delete his FB account because he sees nothing beneficial to be gained from it! (Thank GOD!) So in reality who CARES what happens to FB….Twitter or all these other “social networking” sites? seems to me they’ve outlived their usefulness, at least as far as me and mine go. I still have my FB account, and intend on keeping it only to remain in touch with family and friends that are far, far, away. But I won’t be scrolling for days through posts of people who give a play-by-play account of their entire day, from sunrise to sunset. I hope the CEO;s of these companies have some sort of early retirement plan if things should suddenly go south, as a lot of heavy hitters and companies with a huge following are ditching the platform,….oh well nothing lasts forever it would seem!

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