There’s a message making the rounds on Facebook suggesting that users search “following me” in their blocking settings to see who might be following them–usually a bunch of people you don’t know who might be trying to spy on you, or so the message implies. It goes on to suggest that you block them, even though you’ll have to do it one by one.
It’s all nonsense. Typing “following me” into your blocked users search bar will only bring up users whose names most closely resemble “following me” to Facebook’s algorithms–whether they are actually following you or not. The hoax has gained momentum in the past few days, prompting several media outlets to alert readers not to take it seriously.
According to New York Magazine, some users went one step beyond merely ignoring the hoax. They decided to have a little fun with it by changing their own user names to closely resemble “following me.” Then they waited to see what kind of response they would get. They got more than they bargained for.
It turns out that many of Facebook’s more than 2 billion users who read the hoax message thought it was real and did not content themselves with merely blocking the users who came up in a “following me” search. They actually contacted those people, demanding to know why they were being followed and sometimes to level invectives at them.
Melissa Freck told New York that after she changed her nickname to “following me,” she got thousands of such messages. Another Facebook user who adopted a “following me” name to see what would happen said she got hundreds of message requests from people who would fire off an expletive at her and then immediately block her so she couldn’t respond.
And, as things on the internet often do, some of the communications took a decidedly odd turn. One Facebook correspondent demanded to see Freck’s breasts. Another told a harrowing story of having lost two children. Freck wasn’t sure whether to believe it, but she responded compassionately to that user anyway.
Many of the people who tried out “following me” names for fun quickly changed them back after receiving these barrages of mostly hostile correspondence. “Facebook is an animal. I do not know how else to put it,” Freck told New York. It seems the moral of the story is: Don’t poke the beast.