Communities, a new WhatsApp feature that allows for larger, more organized conversation groups that was tested earlier this year, is now publicly accessible. Communities include a number of additional messaging platform capabilities with the objective of improving communication and organization among enterprises, organizations, schools, and other private groups. Admin controls, support for sub-groups and announcement groups, 32-person phone and video chats, greater file sharing, emoji reactions, and polls are among the features.
Communities offer end-to-end encryption and can support groups of up to 1024 users.
Emoji reactions, large file sharing (up to 2GB), and the ability for administrators to erase messages are just a few of the Community features that have already made their way to the WhatsApp platform prior to today’s introduction. According to the company, polls, 32-person video conversations, and greater group sizes will now be available more broadly outside of Communities.
Because both the new feature and Facebook Groups provide features such as sub-groups, file sharing, admin functionality, and more, there may be some similarities at first. WhatsApp Communities, on the other hand, are intended to be used by people who are already connected in real life, as opposed to Facebook Groups, which are typically utilized by dispersed strangers with a common interest.
Members of these discussion groups already know one another because they may have swapped phone numbers or at the very least supplied their numbers to the group admin because WhatsApp is phone number-based, as opposed to Facebook. The phone numbers will only be available to admins and members of the same sub-groups as you; the rest of the Community will be kept in the dark.
This seeks to achieve a balance between users’ desires for privacy and the need to allow communication among group members. Even if you don’t know every parent on your child’s sports team, you’re probably comfortable talking to them in a small group setting that’s part of the greater school community.
Furthermore, WhatsApp Communities are hidden, as opposed to Facebook Groups, which are visible on the site. You must be invited to join; there will be no search or discovery options.
Upon launch, administrators of existing group chats will have the choice of transitioning their group to Communities or starting over as a Community. Furthermore, administrators can ask individuals to join the community by issuing invitation links or adding them to groups.
Communities are set up with a central announcement group that sends out important notifications to all members. Only admin-approved little sub-groups of users, however, are permitted to talk. Members can avoid receiving excessive notifications regarding group activities and events in which they are not involved by doing so. Participants in a planning group or volunteer initiative, for example, could form a subgroup in which only a select few would need to communicate.
The release of Communities could put pressure on other popular apps for private and massive group communications, such as Telegram and Signal, as well as established messaging services like iMessage and apps designed specifically for businesses or educational institutions, such as GroupMe, Band, TalkingPoints, Remind, and others.
In a statement, WhatsApp announced that it is “aiming to raise the bar for how organizations connect with a level of privacy and security not found anywhere else,” emphasizing the Communities feature’s encryption features.
The present options, it added, “require users to trust apps or software businesses with a copy of their messages, and we believe they deserve the higher level of security provided by end-to-end encryption.”
There are still concerns that communities like these could support unlawful or dangerous organizations, similar to how Facebook Groups have recently permitted the dissemination of misleading information about health and elections, fueling the flames that, for example, led to the January 6 Capitol Riot.
WhatsApp claims it will base its decision on the Community’s “name, description, and user reports,” among other unencrypted details. As a result, the company’s techniques for preventing such acts appear to be limited.
It claims that if it believes that a group is being used to transmit documents involving child sexual abuse, organize violent activities, or participate in human tracking, it will either disband the community or ban all of its members, depending on the circumstances. To reduce the spread of incorrect information, the company stated that communications that have already been forwarded will only be able to be transferred to one group at a time, rather than the current maximum of five.
Naturally, the company is still working to recover its privacy reputation following the uproar over a year ago’s confusing policy change, which drew the attention of various anti-competition authorities and regulatory bodies, including those in the EU and India. Later, WhatsApp defined its regulations even further, emphasizing that the addition of Communities would not demand a new policy change.
Communities have been tried with around 50 organizations from 15 countries to gain early feedback. WhatsApp acknowledged in August that the feature had been made available to a restricted set of testers, but no release date was given.
The feature will be available to all Android and iOS users over the next few months, beginning with the bigger WhatsApp user base today.
Update (7:20 a.m. et): Mark Zuckerberg’s assertion was debunked after the comment was published on the WhatsApp blog. This is exactly what he stated.