WhatsApp will launch group option with thousands of users, but only after election
NEW YORK: WhatsApp launches this Thursday (14) in an experimental stage a new feature called communities, which will act as an umbrella housing several groups with thousands of users.
In practice, this is a large group of groups, which can have thousands of members, with all communication encrypted. Today, each WhatsApp group has a maximum of 256 members.
The feature will be in testing with some users in the coming months.
WhatsApp has committed to the TSE (Tribunal Superior Eleitoral) not to debut the “communities” in Brazil before the eventual second round of the presidential election, scheduled for October 30.
The company, however, does not promise to hold the launch of communities between the second round and the presidential inauguration in Brazil.
In the United States, in the 2020 presidential election, much of the disinformation that culminated in the January 6 capitol raid circulated after the vote, mostly on YouTube . In Brazil, WhatsApp was the main vehicle for political disinformation in the 2018 election .
The target audience of the new feature are schools, businesses and building residents.
“We believe communities will make it easier for a school principal to bring all parents and guardians together to share important notices and create groups for specific classes and extracurricular or volunteer activities,” the company says.
But it was unclear how WhatsApp would prevent communities from being used for political or health disinformation purposes . Communities will work similarly to the Slack and Discord apps.
The competing app’s channels have an unlimited number of followers — that of President Jair Bolsonaro , for example, has 1.3 million followers.
Communities, in principle, would have a limit of 10 groups with 256 members each — that is, 2,560 users. But WhatsApp is studying increasing the number of members in groups to 512 and increasing the number of groups in each community.
Administrators will be responsible for creating and managing WhatsApp Communities, choosing which groups will be part of them and creating new groups. In addition, they will also be able to remove groups and community members.
Users will be able to report abuse and block contacts. To join one of the groups in a community, simply access a link sent by an administrator.
In 2019, WhatsApp admitted that mass shootings , which are offered by intermediary marketing agencies and violate the app’s usage rules, were used in an attempt to manipulate the 2018 Brazilian election. The TSE later banned the practice.
The app reduced the number of possible forwards for each message from 20 to 5, to reduce the spread of misinformation. In 2020, during the Covid pandemic, WhatsApp established a limit on one forwarding for the most popular messages.
Will Cathcart, global president of WhatsApp, told Folha that communities will not be a setback in the fight against disinformation.
He points out that communities will have mechanisms to stop viralization — messages that have already been forwarded can only be forwarded again to one group at a time, instead of five groups, which is the current limit.
However, as communities will potentially have thousands of members, who can forward messages to other groups in other communities, there is potential for the spread of false information.