November 27, 2022

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WhatsApp officially launches its new discussion group feature, Communities • Eureka News Now

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WhatsApp is officially launching Communities today, the new feature offering larger, more structured discussion groups that was first tested earlier this year. Designed to help organizations, clubs, schools, and other private groups communicate better and stay organized, Communities bring a number of new features to the messaging platform, including admin control, support for subgroups and announcement groups, voice, and video for 32 people calls, larger file shares, emoji reactions and polls.

Communities themselves can support groups of up to 1024 users and offer end-to-end encryption.

Some of the features designed for communities, such as emoji reactions, large file sharing (up to 2GB), and the ability for admins to delete messages, had already made their way onto the WhatsApp platform prior to today’s launch. Now, the company says polls, 32-person video calls, and larger groups will also be more widely supported on WhatsApp outside of communities.

The new feature may initially draw some comparisons to Facebook groups as both support things like subgroups, file sharing, admin functionality and more. But while Facebook groups are often used by unconnected strangers who share a common interest, WhatsApp communities are for members who may already be connected in the real world. Unlike Facebook, WhatsApp is phone number-based, meaning the participants in these discussion groups are already familiar with each other, as they may have exchanged phone numbers or at least shared their number with a group admin. However, the phone numbers are hidden from the wider community and only made visible to admins and others in the same subgroups as you.

This is to balance users’ demand for privacy with the need to allow other group members to reach you. For example, you may not know every parent on your child’s sports team personally, but you are probably comfortable interacting with them in a private group environment that can exist as a subset of the overall school community.

Additionally, unlike Facebook groups, which are discoverable on the platform, WhatsApp communities are hidden. There will be no search and discovery feature – you must be invited to participate.

Photo credit: WhatsApp

At launch, admins of existing group chats can switch their group to communities if they prefer, or they can choose to create their group from scratch as a community. Admins also have the power to add members to the groups, or they can send out invite links that allow others to become community members.

Communities are structured with a main announcement group that brings everyone to the attention of the most important news. But members can only chat in small subgroups approved by the admin. This can prevent members from being bombarded with messages about group events and events they are not connected to. For example, members could create a subgroup for a volunteer project or a planning group where only a few people would need to chat.

The adoption of communities could challenge other apps that have become popular for private and large group communication, including Telegram and Signal, as well as standard messaging platforms like iMessage and apps aimed at organizations or schools like GroupMe, Band, TalkingPoints , Remind and others.

In an announcement, Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s CEO, also emphasized the encryption aspects of the Communities feature, saying that the company “aims to raise the bar for how organizations communicate with each other with a level of privacy and security unmatched anywhere else.” is”.

“The alternatives available today require that apps or software companies be trusted with a copy of their messages – and we believe they deserve the higher level of security offered by end-to-end encryption,” he said.

WhatsApp officially launches its new discussion group feature, Communities • Eureka News Now

Photo credit: WhatsApp

There are still concerns that communities like these may support groups engaging in illegal or dangerous behavior, much like Facebook groups have allowed health and election misinformation to thrive in recent years, and fueled the fires leading to events like the riot on January 6 at the Capitol. for example. Actions by WhatsApp to stop things like this appear to be limited, as the company says it will rely on available unencrypted information about the community, such as “name, description, and user reports,” to determine if action is needed are.

It says if it finds that a group is being used to distribute child sexual abuse material, coordinate violence, or engage in the persecution of people, it will ban the individual community members and admins disbanding the community or ban all community members, depending on the situation. However, the company noted that messages that have already been forwarded can only be forwarded to one group at a time, instead of five, which is today’s forwarding limit, to reduce the spread of misinformation.

The company is, of course, still working to rebuild its privacy reputation after last year’s backlash over its obscure policy update, which drew the attention of some competition authorities and regulators, including in the EU and India. WhatsApp later added more clarity to its policies, noting that the launch of communities would not require further policy updates.

Communities ran tests with over 50 organizations in 15 countries to get early feedback. In August, WhatsApp confirmed it had rolled out the feature to a small number of testers, but didn’t give a launch date.

Today the feature is rolling out to the broader WhatsApp user base and will reach all users worldwide on both Android and iOS in the next few months.

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