WhatsApp to delay Communities launch in Brazil

The update will go live after the general elections in October as part of measures to fend off disinformation in the country.
Written by Angelica Mari, Contributing Writer

Meta will delay the launch of WhatsApp's Communities feature in Brazil as part of plans to tackle the spread of false information ahead of the presidential elections.

Announced last week, the Communities tool is a feature-rich replacement for group chats, which enables users to send messages to different groups at the same time. The update includes tools such as file sharing and group calls for up to 32 people, as well as moderation controls and the ability to host sub-groups.

According to the company, the feature will only be launched in Brazil after the presidential elections, set to take place in October. The company's head of public policy Dario Durigan told Brazilian news website G1 that the decision to postpone the launch is "a precautionary measure" to avoid amplifying noise around the democratic process in what is a "complicated year".

The decision follows the agreement between Meta and Brazil's Superior Electoral Court (TSE) announced earlier this year, with measures to fend off disinformation and the spread of fake news that may be detrimental to the upcoming elections.

At the time, WhatsApp -- which was at the center of a scandal involving the country's current president in the elections of 2018 -- committed to a handful of initiatives such as improving a chatbot developed for the 2020 elections, as well as holding seminars for TSE staff about the functioning of the app. Similar agreements have been signed with all the major social media platforms active in Brazil, including the other Meta platforms, Facebook and Instagram.

Despite the decision to delay the launch until later in 2022, the Public Prosecution Service questioned the messaging app about the possibility of postponing the rollout of the group feature until 2023. The document warns about the danger of a "real setback for the efforts around tackling abusive behaviors potentially linked with disinformation".

Also: Social networks partner with Brazil's electoral justice to tackle fake news during elections

Brazil is one of the world's largest markets for WhatsApp. The country is among the most active both in terms of the number of users and the use of the application: it is the mobile app Brazilians use most often and for longer periods of time.

On the other hand, Telegram has been gaining ground in Brazil. Uptake of the messaging tool accelerated, especially after the president shifted his communications to the platform following WhatsApp's decision to limit message forwarding. According to a survey carried out by Mobile Time & Opinion Box, Telegram is present in 60% of smartphones in Brazil.

Earlier this year, Telegram nearly got banned in Brazil after failing to fully comply with various requests linked to ongoing investigations around the spread of disinformation and ignored contact attempts from Brazilian authorities. The company then pledged to cooperate with the authorities and agreed to join the permanent program aimed at fending off disinformation led by TSE.

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