The last time I checked, WhatsApp was not one of the most popular social media apps among journalists.
It was trailing Twitter, Facebook, Messenger, and Line by far.
Many a journalist have written off this chat app with a disputed 800 million monthly active users after efforts to broadcast through it proved to be a herculean task— adding phone numbers to chat groups and broadcast lists.
Yes, pushing out information through hard-to-make and limited WhatsApp broadcast lists is neither efficient nor economical but this world’s most popular messaging application is still useful in journalism.
It unleashes its power when you reverse the newsroom-audience information flow— from broadcasting to newsgathering.
What’s more, WhatsApp’s latest addition of end-to-end encryption (above) has made it safe for internal newsroom communication— including managers’ top-secret chats, planning, story assignment to reporters and content filing, including scoops.
“When you and your contacts use the latest version of the app, every call you make, and every message, photo, video, file and voice message you send, is end-to-end encrypted by default, including group chats,” WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton said in their announcement of the new privacy features.
Unlike Telegram where users have to start a secret chat to enable encryption, WhatsApp’s new security feature, Signal Protocol designed by Open Whisper Systems, is enabled by default in the app’s latest version.
“Once the session is established, clients do not need to rebuild a new session with each other until the existing session state is lost through an external event such as an app reinstall or device change,” Koum and Acton said.
However, there are concerns that the encryption fails in chats between Android and iPhone phones. It should also be noted that the Big Brother may be able to snoop on encrypted messages if the security of your gadget is compromised.
So, how can you effectively use WhatsApp for internal newsroom communication, content-generation and newsgathering?
The app that was acquired by Facebook at $16 billion (£10.6 billion) in 2014 uses standard cellular mobile numbers to send information— photos, texts, audio, videos and user location — over the internet, across platforms.
Its web feature, WhatsApp Web, which is installed by scanning a QR reader, makes it easier to type and download information onto a computer for processing.
Once this system is set up, WhatsApp is not only fast in breaking news but also more reliable in receiving and verifying eyewitness media and User Generated Content (UGC).
To begin, it is advisable to set up a WhatsApp group for your reporters and correspondents, with editors as admins who issue instructions and plan day-to-day business
As the newsgatherers post content on the platform, editors have to monitor updates, download, process, package and publish the information.
The app’s chat function allows conversations between the senders and receivers, including clarifications and requests for more information in real time.
Kenya’s Daily Nation has successfully used WhatsApp to receive breaking stories from its reporters and correspondents around the world in the last two years.
It runs a closed group where newsgatherers, online subs and editors are ever conversing— gathering and publishing information as part of the newspaper’s digital strategy.
The BBC has expanded beyond closed newsroom groups and now uses WhatsApp to receive eyewitness media and general UGC, according to Journalism.co.uk.
The Wall Street Journal and the Guardian, reports Journalism.co.uk, have also run successful crowd-sourcing projects using WhatsApp.
While Facebook, Twitter, Line, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat and Viber are equally reliable in delivering UGC, verification of content delivered via WhatsApp is quicker, courtesy of country phone codes.
For instance, if a user claims to be a resident of Garissa in Kenya where Al-Shabaab killed 148 students last year and their phone number’s country code reads +27, you have every reason to be skeptical because +27 is the country code for South Africa. Kenya’s is +254.
Mark you, it is not impossible for people to download content from the internet and pass it as their own on this ‘dark end’ of the internet.
As such, content delivered via WhatsApp should treated with the scepticism all UGC deserves and passed through the normal verification process.
The success of WhatsApp in delivering UGC is solely dependent on the popularity of the app in the targeted region.
It can work wonders in a country such as India that has over 65 million active users but may not be as successful in the United States where WhatsApp is still struggling to get users’ attention.
Photo credits: — Harry Misiko, El Taller del Bit, iphonedigital, Microsiervos and Syed Ikhwan | Creative Commons.