Home » Social media – Whatsapp turns 15 – and is no longer the app it once was – News

Social media – Whatsapp turns 15 – and is no longer the app it once was – News

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Social media – Whatsapp turns 15 – and is no longer the app it once was – News


The popular news app is increasingly developing into a social network. This can be problematic.

When WhatsApp was founded in California on February 24, 2009, the app did not yet send messages. You could only set a status and show what you are currently doing: “I’m at the cinema”, “I’m working”, “I’m sitting on the toilet”.

When Apple introduced push notifications for the young iPhone a few months later, WhatsApp users began sending each other status changes as short messages. Thanks to the new push function, they were delivered immediately.

Meta’s expensive deal was worth it

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Meta – then known as Facebook – bought WhatsApp in February 2014 for a whopping $19 billion. And the expensive deal was worth it for Meta: With the purchase, they were able to incorporate a competitor that today has better growth forecasts than other meta platforms such as Facebook or Instagram.

Recently it was suspected that Meta wanted to turn Whatsapp into a kind of super app – an app with which you can not only send messages, but also watch videos, play games, shop or transfer money. In countries like India or China, these shopping and payment functions already exist on WhatsApp.

Shortly afterwards, the WhatsApp makers officially integrated the short message function into the app. From then on, things rose steeply: a handful of users quickly became a quarter of a million. Today, almost three billion people worldwide rely on WhatsApp, which has been part of Meta, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook group, for ten years.

A social network without algorithm

The main reason for its success: Whatsapp was free – both the app itself and sending messages. In Switzerland, where in 2009 you still paid up to 25 centimes for a single SMS, a good reason to switch to Whatsapp. In contrast, in the USA, where mobile phone providers offered SMS flat rates early on, the app’s triumph only began later.

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Even 15 years later, Whatsapp is still free. Some new functions were added: telephone calls, video calls, group chats and so on End-to-end encryption. The latter means: Only the sender and the recipient can read a message; WhataApp does not notice the content. This is also the case with group chats.

Advertising in WhatsApp channels soon?

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Whatsapp has remained largely ad-free to this day – in contrast to other meta-platforms such as Facebook or Instagram. At least in private chats it will stay that way: Whatsapp’s product manager recently asserted in an interview with the German news magazine “Der Spiegel” that they are absolutely not thinking of introducing advertising there.

However, she did not want to rule out advertising being shown on WhatsApp channels. These channels have been around since last year and work like a blog that authorities, companies or private individuals can use to keep their followers up to date.

These group chats have become one of the app’s most popular functions over the years and, for many people, a replacement for social networks such as Facebook or Instagram. An algorithm determines what is shown on the platform.

In WhatsApp groups, on the other hand, you can only see messages that friends publish. Nicely sorted in chronological order and not curated by an algorithm that wants to tie you to the platform with emotional and controversial content in order to show as much advertising as possible.

Lynchings in India

As a social network, WhatsApp can be more problematic than “open” platforms like Facebook. In contrast to the news feed from Facebook and Co., no outside information penetrates group chats. And group dynamics mean that internal criticism is often silenced. This can contribute to political polarization and radicalization of members.

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For example, there were many people in WhatsApp groups during the Corona pandemic Misinformation to find. In Brazil, there were targeted attacks in WhatsApp groups before the 2019 presidential election The disinformation campaign of the Bolsonaro camp. And in India it is said to be widespread in Whatsapp groups Rush have led to lynchings against minorities.

Whatsapp has therefore restricted the distribution of messages: your own content can only be shared with others up to five times, and content that has already been shared can only be forwarded once. The policy wants to go even further: In recent years, the EU has had plans to weaken the encryption on Whatsapp (and other messaging apps). But nothing like this has been implemented yet. And security experts are very critical of such measures.

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