Facebook “Unsend” Message Option Could Increase Cyber Bullying, Warn Experts

Written by Dev Gupta
Last updated July 12, 2021

Experts have warned that Facebook’s recent plans to allow users delete sent messages could promote abuse and harassment on the platform.

Late last week, the social media giant confirmed that in the months to come, it would bring out a feature that lets users “unsend” messages that were sent via the Messenger app. The development comes shortly after a Tech Crunch report that highlighted that Facebook was secretly deleting old messages sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg. That had earlier sparked uproar over double standards of Facebook.

A Business Insider report highlights that the newly announced feature will make it easier for harassers and cyber bullies to get away more easily with crimes. The report quotes Florencia Herra-Vega, the CTO of Peerio, an encrypted messaging app: “There are times we go back to chat reports to make sure something was actually said. Simple things like reminders for getting the milk.”

Facebook “Unsend” Message Option Could Increase Cyber Bullying, Warn Experts 2

“But this same innocence can reach criminal levels of thought when you think of people being abusive online. They will now have the chance to be abusive and then go back and modify the chat. This will mean an easy walk-away for almost anyone that engages in cyber-bullying and harassment,”

The unprecedented move will also see the frequency of gaslighting instances rise within relationships. People can send their partners messages that might not be abusive but delete them later and deny saying any of that in the first place.

Toronto-based digital rights lawyer, Cynthia Khoo writes: “This is far more insidious that it appears on the face of it. It is often not a single message that causes the harm, but a series of abusive messages. It is in this pattern of behavior that the real danger lies.”

“With the new feature, there is clear potential to not just remove individual messages, but delete selective messages and thus removing a whole angle from the conversation.”

As of now, it is still not clear on how the feature will be implemented. We do not know if both the parties will lose their messages or just one side. Will there be expiry dates or can users selectively delete the messages at their will? Will one or both parties receive a notification when such an event occurs?

In Zuckerberg’s case, only the messages sent by him were deleted and users did not receive any notification. The scope of the feature can only be determined after its full implementation. But honestly, most experts believe that Facebook could just have stirred up the hornet’s nest with this new feature.

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