The Facebook ‘Poke’ Is Back, But What Does it Mean?

What does it mean to “poke” someone on Facebook? Is it flirty, friendly, or even annoying? The answer is all of the above, and somehow, none at all. The ambiguous feature was largely invisible for many years, but now Facebook is reporting a 13x spike in poking in the last month.

“THE POKE IS HAVING A MOMENT,” said Facebook in all caps on Threads. “There’s been a 13x spike in poking on Facebook in the past month. So, be honest: who’s poking who?”

Facebook made a few small changes that are responsible for the massive increase in pokes, first reported by TechCrunch Tuesday. The company made it easier to find the poking page through search, and Facebook also improved the platform’s suggestions on who to poke. Reportedly, more than 50% of these pokes are coming from users aged 18-29. Many of these young users are likely experiencing pokes for the first time, as they probably weren’t on the platform when pokes first came out.

Facebook sent me this poking video and I don’t know what to do with it so here it is.

But the question remains: what even is a poke? And what does it mean? The poke has been around since Facebook’s inception in 2004, and it’s always been unclear what the feature even is. It never went away, but I personally haven’t heard of anyone poking in the last five years.

A Gizmodo article from 2014 answers a reader’s question about whether Pokes are creepy or funny. The answer? It’s both. It’s everything. It can be interpreted however you want, and that’s part of the beauty of it.

It’s also a terrifying part of it. We’ve all received a poke from someone that sent a shiver down our spine. Was it that distant relative you haven’t seen in a while? Maybe it was your former high school physics teacher, or perhaps an ex girlfriend who things did not end well with. Whoever it was, you probably interpreted their poke in the worst way possible. That’s the danger of poking — it really depends on the context of your relationship.

The poke feature came directly from the genius brain of Mark Zuckerberg. Even the notification noise that first played when you poked someone was just Zuckerberg himself going “poke.” You can listen to it on SoundCloud. In many ways, the poke was a preview of just how strange Zuckerberg was.

“We thought it would be fun to make a feature that has no specific purpose,” said Zuckerberg in a Facebook post over a decade ago. “So mess around with it, because you’re not getting an explanation from us.”

The poke encapsulated a lot of the good and bad about social media. Pokes, like Facebook, connected people in strange ways they never thought of before. There was a delightfully random connection to it that was fun and exciting. However, it was also extremely weird and, arguably, completely unnecessary.

The poke also was a precursor to the random dopamine reward systems that are now common on social media. You never knew when you were gonna get poked, so in the back of your brain, you were always kind of waiting for it. If the mere mentioning of pokes returning to Facebook slightly stresses you out, I’m right there with you.

Poke also became the name of a failed social media messaging app from Facebook that aimed to compete with Snapchat. One of the app’s creators posted on Facebook that they made Poke in just 12 days, and the app didn’t last long. However, the legacy of “poking” lives on.

Now, younger users may be experiencing poking for the first time. I’m not sure if we should be happy or sad for them, but nevertheless, Facebook is trying to make poking a thing again.


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