What’s the news: Meta-owned WhatsApp on November 3 began rolling out its new Communities feature globally, allowing users to bring multiple separate groups under one umbrella. For example, school parents can create a “School” community, which consists of smaller WhatsApp groups of different grades.
The feature allows admins to make announcements to a community, organise them into small discussion groups, remove abusive or inappropriate messages from everyone’s chats, and control which groups and individuals are included in a community, WhatsApp explained in a FAQ page.
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Why does this matter: Back in April when WhatsApp announced Communities, we had written about how political parties can use/abuse this feature:
“At present, many political parties — especially in India — use WhatsApp groups for spreading political messages, misinformation, disinformation and hate speech. They create hundreds of thousands of groups — and disseminate messages that get shared from group to group, as a waterfall effect.
WhatsApp had addressed this issue by previously restricting messages — which previously could to be sent to 256 groups down the line, to 5 at a time. This would have made things harder for political parties to forward messages, and made the waterfall mode of messaging more cumbersome, but what’s a little more effort for the devout drone?
The introduction of Communities on WhatsApp allows for much better organisation for political parties: there can be better centralised control, and administrators will be able to send messages to thousands of users, who can then forward the messages to other groups, or perhaps other Communities that they may control. Instead of managing many groups on WhatsApp, and sending messages for further distribution to a group at a time, each admin may just need to manage a few communities, and be able to message hundreds of thousands of users in one go.”
Privacy and content moderation features on Communities:
- WhatsApp will not allow users to search for or discover new Communities; users must be invited to join a Community.
- WhatsApp will also not allow the community at large to view a member’s phone number. The number Community will only be visible to Community admins and others in the same group as the user.
- Messages that have already been forwarded will only be able to be forwarded to one group at a time, rather than five, which is the current forward limit.
- Like other WhatsApp features, Communities supports end-to-end encryption. “With Communities, we’re aiming to raise the bar for how organizations communicate with a level of privacy and security not found anywhere else. The alternatives available today require trusting apps or software companies with a copy of their messages – and we think they deserve the higher level of security provided by end-to-end encryption,” WhatsApp remarked.
How to create a community on WhatsApp: “To get started, tap on the new communities tab at the top of your chats on Android and at the bottom on iOS. From there you can start a new Community from scratch or add existing groups,” WhatsApp explained. The feature might not appear for all users just yet as the company is rolling it out over the next few months.
Other features that are also launching: Along with Communities, WhatsApp has also released:
- The ability to create in-chat polls
- 32-person video calling
- Groups with up to 1024 users
“These features can be used in any group but will be particularly helpful for Communities,” WhatsApp noted.
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