Back in 2015, word started circulating about a “secret” Facebook inbox, one where messages from people you weren’t friends with went to sit and gather dust. The “other” inbox (as it was called) was hard to find and full of spam, including creepy, flirtatious messages from people you had never met. But, every so often, there was a hello from an old school friend you fell out of touch with post-playground days, or a message you actually wished you had seen.
A year later, users were stunned to discover this hidden inbox was like a Russian nesting doll, with another hidden inbox inside, full of so-called “filtered requests”. Both inboxes still exist in Messenger, although they aren’t buried so deep that only the Messenger sleuths among us can dig them out: “Unread Requests” — those from people you haven’t friended — appear at the top of your inbox. When you tap that and scroll to the bottom, you’ll see “filtered requests.” You won’t get notifications about these, so it’s worth checking every so often to see if you’re missing out on a note from a long lost lover.
That’s the extent of Facebook’s message maze, but you may not know — or simply forget to check — a similar inbox in another one of the company’s apps: Instagram.
Open Instagram, go to your direct message folder, and look at the top of your inbox. Do you see a small “requests” heading in blue font on the right-hand side? Tap that, and you’ll see any pending requests from people you don’t follow. You can choose to allow the request, at which point the sender will see that you’ve seen the message, or decline it, in which case they’ll never know you opened and ignored it.
On a good day, this “requests” folder might include an invite to a party or, if your account is public, interesting input on one of your Stories from someone you haven’t met. For influencers, it can be an important place to connect with brands and fans, and, prior to direct message updates announced yesterday, a place for businesses to interact with potential customers.
But for everyone who just uses Instagram to connect with friends, the “requests” folder can be one of the darkest, strangest places of the online world. You might find messages from people who saw you on Tinder and are trying a more direct approach, inappropriate images from total strangers, and incomprehensible sentences likely formed by bots. In other words, accounts you probably don't want communicating with you or looking at your profile.
In response to a request for comment, an Instagram spokesperson says its moderation policies do apply to direct messages, too: “Instagram uses automated technology that scans all images when they are uploaded on the platform, including those sent via Direct. This system flags known child exploitative material and known terrorist propaganda so we can quickly remove content.”
While you could just ignore the folder and never see what lies in store, there might be messages you don't want to miss. For that reason, it’s better to open it, then block and report the messages from accounts you never want to hear from again. Before tapping “decline” when you open a message, tap the “i” icon in the upper right-hand corner. There, you’ll have the option to report the message as “spam” or “inappropriate” and can choose to block the sender. If you do accidentally accept a message and immediately regret it, follow the same steps to block or report it. Ideally, Instagram's filters would block all of those unwanted messages from ever appearing in your "requests" to begin with. But when they do, you have the control to take action — use it.