WhatsApp has launched a new “communities” feature that allows you to message thousands of people at once.
Until now, WhatsApp groups have been limited to 256 people, and those people can only be added using their phone number, with the intention that everyone in a chat knows each other.
The new Communities tool fundamentally alters that, with the intention of making WhatsApp something closer to a social network in which a much larger group of people can chat and share information.
Mark Zuckerberg called the update a “major evolution” that reflected a change in the way that people communicate online.
The new tool is essentially an expansion of groups, which makes them much larger and akin to a social network. Users can then send messages to everyone in that community.
That could be all the parents at a school, for instance, or all the staff in a workplace or people in a neighbourhood. Many people already use WhatsApp in such a way, but are forced to use the groups feature, which Mr Zuckerberg acknowledged can be difficult.
Inside of those communities, users can have a number of groups. So a community based around a school could have specific groups and chats devoted to particular classes, for instance.
“We built WhatsApp Communities to make it much easier to organize all your group chats and find information,” Mr Zuckerberg wrote in an announcement. “You’ll be able to bring different group together into one community – for example, in addition to individual groups for different classes, you might have one overall community for parents at a school with a central place for announcements and tools for admins.
“We’re also adding new features to groups on WhatsApp, including reactions, large file sharing, and bigger group calls. And because this is WhatsApp, end-to-end encryption and safety features will be built in from the start.”
WhatsApp will also be adding some extra limitations to the Communities feature. People will only be able to forward messages on to one group at a time, for instance – with the aim of making it less easy to spread harmful posts such as false stories or spam as quickly.
Similarly, only a community’s administrators will be able to send a message to everyone inside it at once. Users will only be able to post in the sub-groups they have already joined.
Only the admins and people in shared smaller groups will be able to see your phone number, too.
The feature begins testing now and will roll out over the coming months, WhatsApp and Facebook owner Meta said. That rollout will be “slow”, Mr Zuckerberg warned.
WhatsApp has suggested that rollout will happen in part to test how the feature works, and to potentially make alterations as more people use it.
He also said that similar features would be coming to Messenger, Facebook and Instagram.
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