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How WhatsApp is roiling Indian families — and predicting our future

Revue
 
The release of Facebook earnings yesterday gave us a fresh opportunity to ask: what is a meaningful i
 
February 1 · Issue #74 · View online
The Interface
The release of Facebook earnings yesterday gave us a fresh opportunity to ask: what is a meaningful interaction? After all, it’s how Mark Zuckerberg says the company will now measure itself. “The thing that we’re going to be measuring is basically the number of interactions that people have on the platform and off because of what they’re seeing that they report to us as meaningful,” he said yesterday on an earnings call
However you define the term, it seems inarguable that families are often the source of meaningful interactions. With its massive scale, Facebook has hundreds of millions of families using its various platforms. How those families interact on its services could give us some insight in what Facebook could look like in the meaningful-interaction era.
That’s why I was interested to read Pranav Dixit’s latest dispatch: “WhatsApp Family Groups Are Keeping Indian Families Together — And Driving Some Apart.” Here we have a Facebook-owned platform that produces multiple daily interactions between entire families, and while the results undoubtedly have meaning for the participants, the effect can be surprisingly polarizing:
Family WhatsApp groups are great for seeing pictures of your cousin’s new dog or coordinating help during medical emergencies. But often, being in one is like having a permanent, boisterous family get-together in your pocket, where distant relatives lob “Good Morning” images at each other every single morning, swap sexist and racist jokes, peddle fake news, and share your embarrassing baby pictures. Inevitably, people argue, usually over someone’s lifestyle or career choices, and everyone piles on. And once in a while, you duke it out over Donald Trump or Narendra Modi with an aunt or uncle you haven’t seen in years.
In other words, more intimate online groups often wind up replicating the problems of more open networks. As Dixit notes, the platforms don’t create these dynamics. But they can reinforce them, often with unexpected consequences. How’s this for meaningful interaction:
Some Indians like Shah, the software engineer from Seattle, deal with uncomfortable content or conversations in their family groups with radio silence because they don’t want to rock the boat much. For weeks, said Shah, he’s completely quiet in all of the handful of family WhatsApp groups he’s in. “People don’t like it,” he said, but added that he doesn’t really have a choice. “Sometimes, I’ll wish a family member on their birthday in the group, and someone else will get pissed off because I didn’t wish them,” he said. Shah now messages people privately or calls them. “I don’t want to get into trouble with my family,” he said.
Of course, families had complicated dynamics long before tech platforms came along. But to the extent Facebook hopes to push us into more intimate groups, the experience of these Indian families on WhatsApp reminds us that more confined spaces aren’t always happier ones.

Democracy
Germany Opens Anti-Trust Probe Into Online Advertising
In France and Italy, fake news traffic is limited. But on Facebook, it’s less clear
Telegram removed from Apple’s App Store due to ‘inappropriate content’
How WeChat came to rule China
Last up in democracy, let’s do a quick check-in on the media environment today:
Natasha Loder
You cannot make this stuff up. A Bloomberg article just served me a fake ad for a fake news story on a fake CNN Tech website about Elon Musk leaving Tesla to start a Bitcoin trading venture. https://t.co/dxiMgQql4P
6:33 AM - 1 Feb 2018
Elsewhere
Online Cults of the Future
The Legal Consequences Of Sending Disappearing Messages At Work
Yo app launches Patreon to let community decide to keep it or not
Launches
Instagram’s new ‘type mode’ lets you add text-only pages to your stories
Ads between Instagram Stories are about to get more annoying
Words of Heart
Meanwhile, Twitter has a new moneymaking venture:
Twitter API
New year, new access for our developer community! 🎉 Today, we’re launching our premium Search Tweets: Full-archive endpoint — providing access all the way back to @jack’s first Tweet in 2006. https://t.co/emgyLhnUob
8:37 AM - 1 Feb 2018
Takes
Facebook Makes It Even Tougher to Gauge Its Popularity
Facebook's Earnings, Microsoft's Earnings
Facebook's Future Rests on Knowing You Even Better
I Quit Twitter and It Feels Great
And finally ...
18 Jokes About The FBI Spying On People That Will Make You Laugh Then Feel Super Paranoid
Cole M. Sprouse
Sometimes before I leave the house I wave to my laptop camera just to brighten the day of the FBI agent. Friendliness is contagious you know.
1:23 PM - 26 Jan 2018
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? casey@theverge.com
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