Meta launches WhatsApp Channels, which seems a bit like Twitter

The artist formerly known as Facebook has created a way for people to follow and get updates from other accounts through the WhatsApp messaging service.

The new feature is called Channels and is described as ‘a one-way broadcast tool for admins to send text, photos, videos, stickers, and polls.’ So you find a Channel to subscribe to and then receive stuff the owner of that channel sends out. In that respect it seems like a limited version of social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

Given that Meta already owns Instagram, it’s not obvious why it is trying to bring this kind of functionality to WhatsApp, or why anyone would prefer Channels as a way of stalking celebrities and brands, especially since it seems to lack the interactive , social dimension. The following paragraphs from the corresponding blog offer some clues.

We’re aspiring to build the most private broadcast service available. This starts by protecting the personal information of both admins and followers. As a channel admin, your phone number and profile photo won’t be shown to followers. Likewise, following a channel won’t reveal your phone number to the admin or other followers. Who you decide to follow is your choice and it’s private.

Similar to how we build messaging, we don’t believe Channel updates should have to stick around forever. So we’ll only store channel history on our servers for up to 30 days and we’ll add ways to make updates disappear even faster from follower’s devices. Admins will also have the option to block screenshots and forwards from their channel.

Lastly, we’ll make it possible for admins to decide who can follow their channel and whether they want their channel to be discoverable in the directory or not. Given the aim of Channels is to reach a wide audience, channels are not end-to-end encrypted by default. We do think there are some cases where end-to-end encrypted channels to a limited audience might make sense, such as a non profit or health organization, and we’re exploring this as a future option as well.

So, to some extent, it seems like a more private, controllable, one-way version of Twitter. Perhaps the perception that Twitter has become more unruly since Elon Musk took it over with the ambition of restoring the principle of free speech is thought by the Meta elite to have created a gap in the market for a more locked-down equivalent.

In that spirit, Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg published a video explaining Channels on Facebook, which doesn’t really say much, can only be accessed by logging into Facebook, and isn’t sharable. The YouTube video below is different and, apart from apparently being some kind of Village People tribute, offers even less clarity on why anyone should use or even care about Channels.

Anyway, for some reason Channels is only launching in Colombia and Singapore to start with so there’s even less reason for the rest of us to pay it much heed in the short term. Another way in which Twitter could have been a catalyst for this move is Musk’s desire to make it an ‘everything app’, along the lines of WeChat in China. Perhaps this is just the first of a raft of new features designed to compete with that.


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