Despite governments and law enforcement groups in almost every country voicing their opposition to Meta’s plan to integrate all of its messaging tools, which will also see the expansion of end-to-end encryption across all of its messaging apps, Zuck and Co. are plowing ahead anyway, with Messenger users now able to implement encryption in all group chats in the app.
As explained by Meta:
“Last year, we announced that we began testing end-to-end encryption for group chats, including voice and video calls. We’re excited to announce that this feature is available to everyone. Now you can choose to connect with your friends and family in a private and secure way.”
It’s the latest step in Meta’s broader integration plan, which will eventually enable users to cross-communicate between WhatsApp, Messenger and IG Direct, with your inbox mirrored in each, and the same data protections applied to each surface.
Which also, inevitably, means more chats will be fully-encrypted, and untrackable by law enforcement. Many have raised concerns about the limitations this could put on investigations into potential criminal activity, but Meta’s view is that all users should have more choice about the data that they share, and who, if anyone, can access such.
And there definitely is a broader push to provide more consumer protections over such, especially as we spend more and more time online – but it is also interesting to note that in each of these cases, the platforms themselves also glean benefits by limiting outside data access.
For Apple, it still collects user data, which it’s still able to use for its own ad targeting and tracking purposes, much like Google will be able to with its new ‘Topics’ approach.
In Meta’s case, it could be argued that Meta benefits from hiding more conversations, as it can’t be blamed for causing division and angst if no one has any way of knowing what its users are sharing.
The expanded integration of its messaging back-end also welds its various tools together, which would make it harder to split the company up, if indeed Meta’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp were at some stage found to be in violation of antitrust law. The FTC is still pursuing Meta on this front, and many have noted that the merger of its messaging tools would potentially offer some protection against this – which is another reason why some are calling for Meta’s integration plan to be blocked.
But that opposition doesn’t appear to be slowing its progress, with the latest stage of its integration now in the books, as it moves onto the next element.
In addition to the expanded encryption options, Meta’s also adding new notifications when someone takes a screenshot of a disappearing message, providing more transparency in the process.
Meta’s also adding GIFs and Stickers to end-to-end encrypted chats, as well as Reactions.
“With reactions, you’ll be able tap and hold on a message to bring up the reactions tray to make your choice of reaction. You can also double tap a message to “heart” it.”
Users will also now be able to reply to specific messages in end-to-end encrypted chats, either by long pressing or swiping, while Meta’s also adding a new option that will enable you to forward a message from an encrypted chat stream.
“Long-pressing on a message will give you the option to forward. One you tap the ‘forward’ button, a share sheet will be displayed so you can share with one or many people or groups. You’ll also be able to create a new group before forwarding a message.”
Meta’s also rolling out new video editing tools, including the ability to add stickers, use mark-up tools, and add text to your clips, along with cropping and audio editing options.
Functionally, most of these tools don’t add anything new to the broader messaging experience, but it’s the first time that they’ve been made available within encrypted chats on Messenger, which could get more people using encrypted chats for more purpose.
And many people do prefer the safety and protection of communicating via more secure, more private messaging.
There’s a reason why WhatsApp has over 2 billion users, because with encrypted messaging by default, amid ongoing media coverage around the dangers of social sharing, and how it can come back to haunt you, more people are indeed turning to WhatsApp instead of the more common messaging tools, as a means to keep in touch, and share whatever you feel, without fear of outside judgment.
But that does, as noted, also facilitate other forms of communication, including criminal activity.
How harmful that is now, and might be in future, is difficult to say, but the key concern expressed by government officials and law enforcement is that encryption removes the capacity to track perpetrators of crimes, and in particular, the sharing of child abuse material, which then gives these criminals essentially free license to more widely distribute such across Meta’s massive network.
The other side of this is that more people want more privacy. The European Union has spent years implementing advanced privacy laws to protect people’s digital data, while a recent report from the UK Information Commissioner found that encrypting communications actually strengthens online safety for children “by reducing their exposure to threats such as blackmail, while also allowing businesses to share information securely”.
Which is more of a concern? Is there more harm in potentially allowing criminal activity to occur in these hidden networks, with police and investigators blinded in pursuit, or is there more protection in keeping user conversations safe, and limiting instances of people having the content that they share online weaponized against them?
There’s no right answer, and likely no way to get to a definitive consensus, but either way, Meta’s pushing ahead with the plan, either for its own benefit or the greater good of society.
How you feel on this will come down to your own personal perspective.
TikTok Rolls Out Comment Downvotes to All Users
After testing them out in the live environment over the last six months, TikTok has today announced that it’s rolling out comment downvotes for all users, as a means to flag inappropriate responses to video clips.
As you can see in this example, TikTok’s ‘Thumbs Down’ comment downvote option will be displayed at the far right of each comment, providing a quick and easy way for users to tag such, in order to help TikTok identify negative behaviors in the app.
Which is the key focus – rather than being an audience response element, like downvotes on Reddit, TikTok’s approach is actually to use the indicator as a means to weed out negative behaviors.
As TikTok explained back in April:
“We’ve started testing a way to let individuals identify comments they believe to be irrelevant or inappropriate. This community feedback will add to the range of factors we already use to help keep the comment section consistently relevant and a place for genuine engagement. To avoid creating ill-feeling between community members or demoralize creators, only the person who registered a dislike on a comment will be able to see that they have done so.”
So dislike counts won’t be public, as they are on Reddit, with the purpose, again, being to help TikTok’s moderation team get on top of negative trends, as flagged by its users.
How it will likely work in this respect is that downvoted comments will be displayed to TikTok mods in ascending order, based on total downvote activity across the app, which will then enable them to them wade through the list and pick up on rising negative trends, providing another way to detect and address such in their process.
That could also help to limit the use of the feature for ‘brigading,’ or using it as a means to launch targeted attacks on people or opinions based on alternative motivations. You can imagine how, for example, people might try to use this feature as a means to downvote conflicting political opinions into oblivion, but as the downvotes themselves don’t impact public display, and are only an indicator for TikTok’s moderation team, that’s less likely to become an issue.
Which would be part of the reason why TikTok’s comfortable pushing ahead with a full launch – and it may well be a good way to help keep things more civil, and more positive in the app.
TikTok actually first began its comment downvote experiment back in 2020, with some researchers spotting the feature in early testing.
Both Facebook and Twitter have also been experimenting with comment downvotes for similar purpose, not as a means to better surface or hide user responses, but to help identify negative behaviors based on what users think is bad, which effectively then helps to improve automated algorithms to detect such in future.
Which could be a better use of the option – though it is worth noting that Reddit’s public downvote system does help the platform highlight more relevant conversations and topics, based on actual responses from humans, as opposed to algorithmically identified trends that are guided by clicks, Likes, dwell time, shares, etc.
The problem with algorithmic trends is that divisive, negative content is amplified via this process, because sparking an emotional response, like anger, drives more people to comment and share. The algorithm then takes as an indicator that more people might want to see it, based on engagement response. The system itself has no way of determining the intent of the content, it only goes on binary signals – which means that triggering more reactions, however you can, is the best way to maximize exposure.
That doesn’t happen on Reddit, because such posts are rapidly downvoted into the doldrums of the app.
Giving actual people the chance to drive exposure in this respect may be a more beneficial approach overall, but the bigger players will never go with it because it also makes users less likely to comment, likely because they’re also concerned about their own remarks being downvoted to the pit.
Previous analysis has suggested that more than 98% of Reddit’s monthly active users don’t ever post or comment in the app, which is likely a key consideration that would limit take-up of such in other apps.
So they go with automated algorithms instead, which also then enables them to wash their hands of any responsibility for whatever type of content gains traction and doesn’t across their networks.
Negative content drives more engagement, and thus, more reach in their apps? ‘We don’t know, it’s based on how users respond, factoring in all forms of engagement, so we’re not responsible for whatever that leads to’.
It does seem that a human-moderated process, via public downvotes, could improve the flow of information in this respect. But the impacts on engagement could also be significant.
In any event, TikTok’s comment downvotes are not designed to help guide the conversation, and could be a valuable supplementary measure to detect rising negative trends.
TikTok says that comment downvotes are being released globally in the app from today.
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