Facebook Has Quietly Implemented A De-Facto Follow Feature

A few days ago, Facebook made what seemed to be a small tweak to its Friend Requests area. As first noted by Inside Facebook, the social network changed the way friend rejections work. Previously, you could either Confirm or Ignore (deny) a request. Now, Ignore has been replaced by “Not Now”. This new option takes some of the pressure off you having to reject people as it instead moves them into a state of limbo, where they’re neither accepted nor rejected. But it actually does a lot more as well.

You see, when someone requests to be your friend on Facebook, this automatically subscribes them to all of your public (“Everyone”) posts in their News Feed. Facebook doesn’t talk about this much, but it’s a very real feature, which we reported on in July of last year. You see these posts until this person rejects you (because obviously if they accept you as a friend, you’ll keep seeing them). So with this new Not Now button, and the removal of the simple rejection mechanism, Facebook has basically created a de-facto follow feature.

With the Not Now button, Facebook took what was a one-step rejection and made it at least two steps — and that’s only if you want to truly block somebody (after you click the Not Now button, they ask “Don’t know XXXX XXXX?” and if you click that, it will block them from making any further friend requests). If you just want to deny a person’s request without blocking them, you have to go to the Requests page — the limbo area that Facebook sends the Not Now people to. This area isn’t particularly easy to find; it’s buried in the Friends -> Find Friends area. In other words, it’s now quite a few steps simply to reject a person’s friend request as you previously could.

Facebook has to know that most people are probably going to hit this Not Now button once and forget about it. And that’s exactly why this change creates a de-facto follow feature. It’s not really a feature they’ve explicitly created, but it exists nonetheless. And thanks to this change, it’s going to be in use a lot more.

It’s almost as if they’re saying “as long as you don’t want to block this person, why not let them follow you?”

Now, to be clear, all of this information seen by “followers” is information that is already public. A random person could visit your profile page and see all of this stuff. But it’s interesting that for pending friends (which again, will now be a ton of people), Facebook starts pumping this info into people’s News Feeds. Remember, this was basically the cause of one of the early backlashes against Facebook when the News Feed was first implemented. Even though it was just showing information that everyone already had access to, it was doing it in a more streamlined way that freaked everyone out. Now they’re doing something similar again, just in a more stealth manner.

For its part, Facebook says this feature is to help with overly aggressive friending behavior (someone continually friending you over and over again after you keep rejecting them). But wouldn’t it just have been easier to put a more obvious “Block” button in the Friend Requests area? Instead, this feature allows the social network to slyly beef up its social graph a bit more with a feature I think they need anyway: follow.

Cue the music on Project Dance Party.