WhatsApp is adding the Twitter-like ability to follow accounts outside your personal contacts.
The new feature will be in a new section of the app called “updates”, separate from your existing private chats, and behave similarly to news feeds on other social media platforms.
Rather than needing to add a contact via their phone number, users will be able to search for individuals and organisations they might like to follow – including sports teams, government officials, and accounts dedicated to hobbies and interests.
Owners of followable pages, dubbed “channels”, will also be able to invite people to join using direct links.
WhatsApp owner Meta said Premier League winners Manchester City and the World Health Organization were among those who had signed up – and eventually, anyone will be able to make their own channel.
Posts from channels can include text, photos, videos, and polls, and will appear in the new updates tab alongside status updates that people can already post for their contacts to see.
When you tap into an update on your feed, channels will look much like a normal WhatsApp chat – just without the ability to message back.
What happened to ‘private messaging’?
Meta described channels as a “private broadcast service”, with page owners and followers both having their phone numbers and profile photos hidden from view. Channels can also opt out of being findable via search.
Updates will only be stored on Meta’s servers for up to 30 days, after which they will disappear.
However, channels will not come with the same end-to-end encryption that WhatsApp’s chats are known for.
Meta said as the goal of channels was to reach a wide audience, that particular privacy guarantee – which prevents anyone outside a chat from accessing its messages – didn’t have the same appeal.
It said it may consider adding end-to-end encryption for some channels in specific cases.
“We do think there are some cases where end-to-end encrypted channels to a limited audience might make sense, such as a non-profit or health organisation, and we’re exploring this as a future option,” the company added.
While much of the functionality of channels may sound similar to the early days of Facebook and Twitter, Meta also insisted private messaging would remain WhatsApp’s “first priority”.
The company has already revealed it is working on a new Twitter-like platform for text-based updates.
Channels will roll out initially in Colombia and Singapore, and will come to other countries including the UK in the “coming months”.