Mark Zuckerberg said last week that the future of Facebook may look a little more like WhatsApp, the private messaging service his company acquired for $19 billion back in 2015.
“I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won’t stick around forever,” he wrote in a blog post about his “privacy-focused vision for social networking.”
Zuckerberg’s manifesto misses something big: WhatsApp and other private messaging services have, at times, enabled deeply toxic communications.
Not surprisingly, rumors have swirled recently that Facebook might consolidate its messaging platforms — Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram — into one central “platform or protocol,” as CBS News put it. There are risks involved — for people who rely on these messaging services, a centralized outage like the one occurring throughout Facebook’s services this week, could be disastrous. But the move seems otherwise sensible, even responsible, in an era dominated by “fake news” and viral outrage. Shifting emphasis away from a News Feed populated by all of your connections and toward more meaningful, private messaging might allay some of these concerns.
But Zuckerberg’s manifesto misses something big: WhatsApp and other private messaging services have, at times, enabled deeply toxic communications, much as Facebook’s News Feed has. Just this Wednesday, Abhijit Bose, the head of WhatsApp India, said the company was working to “limit viral content and educate users” following a number of fatal incidents there.
Last year, a New York Times investigation found that false rumors being spread via WhatsApp had led to mob killings in India, where the service has 200 million users. Those mob attacks ultimately claimed the lives of two dozen innocent people — though some sources estimate an even higher body count overall from WhatsApp-related murders.