Meta-owned WhatsApp announced today that it's offering a new feature for large group chats, called Communities. The groups will have moderating admins who create community rules and can delete offending members. You know, kinda (exactly) like Facebook Groups.
The new Communities will also allow admins to create subgroups dedicated to different topics, similar to the subgroup capabilities Facebook began testing in November. For example, in a community for elementary school parents, admins can create subgroups for clubs or sports teams. In a blog post announcing the new feature, WhatsApp also said communities could be used for small workplaces.
But this is the internet, and Meta is well aware of how toxic online communities can be. The most consequential part of the announcement is the emphasis on administrative control. Admins can delete members, offending media and abusive chats. Users can report abuse or remove themselves from a community or group, but admins have the final say over which users and posts are not permitted.
Meta is also controlling abuse by emphasizing that group members also interact in real life. Users can't search for Communities to join in WhatsApp, and users also have control over which of their contacts are able to invite them to join communities. “WhatsApp is focusing our product development on meeting the needs of organizations and other groups where many people know one another already,” the blog post reads.
Messages will still be end-to-end encrypted, the company said, and members' phone numbers will only be visible to admins. Users can also silently leave Communities and subgroups without announcing it to the other members.
9to5Mac first reported that WhatsApp was working on the Communities feature in late 2021. The feature gives WhatsApp more of a competitive edge over apps like Discord, Signal and Telegram, which are gaining users who want to chat in more private groups. The WhatsApp move also comes as Facebook Groups have become known for being breeding grounds of misinformation.
“It’s been clear for a while that the way we communicate online is changing,” Zuckerberg said on Facebook. “For a deeper level of interaction, messaging has become the center of our digital lives. It’s more intimate and private, and with encryption it’s more secure too."