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The messaging backlash has begun
April 26, 2019
A conversational newsletter by
In the wake of last Sunday’s Easter bombings, Sri Lanka blocked residents from accessing the country’s most popular social media and messaging apps, including Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and Viber.

As Mother Jones reports, the platforms were blocked to prevent the spread of viral misinformation from inciting further violence.

But some are wondering if the government ban might have done more harm than good.
 

The privacy paradox ⚔️

The ongoing shift from public to private messaging channels is a double-edged sword.

In a post-Cambridge Analytica world, messaging apps — particularly those with end-to-end-encryption like WhatsApp, iMessage and Telegram – offer data-wary users a more private and secure alternative to social media sharing.

At the same time, end-to-end-encryption means criminal activity can be impossible to intercept — just ask Robert Mueller — and deadly disinformation can spread like wildfire, as we saw in India this year.   

The backlash has become so intense that even New York Times columnist Kara Swisher, a veteran tech reporter, applauded Sri Lanka’s decision:
 
« It pains me as a journalist, and someone who once believed that a worldwide communications medium would herald more tolerance, to admit this — to say that my first instinct was to turn it all off. »


The blame game 🐐

Not everyone feels this way.

Wired notes that Sri Lanka has a long history of sectarian violence and that messaging risks “becoming a scapegoat for longstanding tensions between ethnic and religious groups.”

Sri Lankans rely on messaging apps to circumvent state media and to keep in touch with loved ones — especially in times of crisis.

We’ve seen this play out in Iran, where the authoritarian regime’s year-old Telegram ban may have stymied emergency flood relief efforts.

As one activist told Wired:
 
« For those in danger, and for those who want to help, not being able to connect or confirm that a loved one is safe can be devastating.
»

For every messaging-affiliated horror story there’s an inspiring counterexample about surgeons using WhatsApp to save lives in rural Malawi, or a chatbot that helps combat anti-vaccination propaganda.

(There’s also a bot for binge-watching Game of Thrones, in case you need more drama in your life).

Messaging won’t solve all the world’s problems. But it shouldn’t be blamed for them either.
 

Bye Bye, BlackBerry Messenger

Over the past 12 months we’ve bid a nostalgic adieu to messaging pioneers AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and a bevvy of (decidedly less beloved) Google-powered chat apps.

Now it’s BlackBerry Messenger’s turn.  

BBM will shut down at the end of May, according to an announcement by its current owners.

As CNET notes, BBM introduced the world to modern messaging hallmarks like read receipts and typing indicators (a claim BlackBerry sued Facebook over last year).
 

BBM is dead, long live BBMe

All is not lost for BBM holdouts. BlackBerry — the company formerly known as Research in Motion, which sold the rights to BBM in 2016 — has an enterprise version of the platform known as BBM Enterprise or BBMe.

In response to BBM’s sunsetting, BlackBerry said it would let individual users onto BBMe, although they wouldn’t be able to bring along their BBM conversation history.  

Confused yet?

In a clear dig at its messaging rivals (see above), BlackBerry boasts that BBMe is a “secure messaging platform that also protects your privacy:”
 
« Because BlackBerry does not monetize data, the service won’t ask for a phone number, suggest contacts to users, nor does it desire to know where users are messaging from, or what is being shared. The service only requires an email address to sign up unlike other apps.  
»


Everything old is new again

Meanwhile, Facebook appears to be having its own Back to the Future moment.

As The Next Web reports, Facebook appears to be reintegrating Messenger into its flagship platform, five years after spinning it into a standalone app.

In 2014, Facebook forced users to download Messenger to continue chatting with contacts on mobile. The move proved savvy, as Facebook soon had the world’s two biggest chat apps in its portfolio, having acquired WhatsApp just months earlier.

Now that the newsfeed has lost its lustre and Facebook is betting the farm on messaging, it’s rolling chat back into the mothership. We’ll see whether users roll along with it. 
 

🤓Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend! Feel free to send me your feedback, questions and BBMe friend requests by replying to this email. 


Dan Levy
Editorial Director
Smooch

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