WhatsApp could become one of the most important news sources of the 21st century because it is the place many people go for relevant information. In fact, WhatsApp is already becoming the 21st century equivalent of a newspaper, something people check and watch regularly.
“The research found that communication services namely mobile IM (instant messaging), social networks are the first thing consumers check on their smartphones in the morning,” the researchers who conducted Deloitte’s Mobile Consumer Survey 2015 in India reported .
According to Deloitte, 78% of people checked their phones within 15 minutes of waking up, and 52% checked them five minutes before going to sleep. That indicates instant messaging services are now a major source of information for people, and since WhatsApp is the world’s most popular IM solution, with 900 million users, it could be the world’s most popular news source.
Is WhatsApp the World’s Newspaper?
An interesting development is that WhatsApp is becoming the “world’s newspaper.” The WhatsApp newsfeed is the front page, the groups are the various sections such as sports and business, and the cartoons and humor sections would be the comics. Feeds on politics could be the editorials.
This writer in the African nation of Zimbabwe admits that he uses WhatsApp’s newspaper feed as his major source of news. He notes that WhatsApp is the first app he opens in the morning.
One reason why WhatsApp is so popular in countries like Zimbabwe is that it can reach locations such as remote rural areas that newspapers cannot. It might be available in places where there is no television reception, and it is more affordable; all you need to access it is a wireless signal, a phone, and a data plan—things even the poorest person can often afford.
WhatsApp News Could Be Politically Disruptive
Another reason why news feeds from services like WhatsApp are growing in popularity in developing nations is that governments have a hard time controlling them. In dictatorships like Zimbabwe, traditional media such as television and newspapers are little more than propaganda outlets for the ruler.
Those that want real news turn to solutions like WhatsApp. Governments can have a very hard time controlling such media because there are no printing presses to smash, no transmitters to shut down, and no journalists to arrest or murder. Nor can thugs tell who has such an app on her phone and who does not.
This could make WhatsApp politically disruptive as well as economically and technologically disruptive. It could undermine oppressive governments by giving people the true story about a political upheaval, a corruption scandal, or a military defeat.
Everybody His or Her Own Journalist
The most disruptive feature of news via instant messaging is that it gives everybody the ability to become his or her own journalist. Every time a person sends an article, a video, or a picture of a news event to friends or members of a WhatsApp group, he or she is acting as a journalist.
That person is deciding what content to send, how to send it, and where to send it. In other words, he or she is now a news editor. That does make old media obsolete; it just makes it less relevant because people can now pick and choose the news that they want to see. For example, a person interested in football no longer has to read just the commentators from his or her local newspaper.
This does not make the traditional media obsolete; it simply changes the way people use it. Instead of getting all their news from one or two sources as they formerly did, people are now free to pick and choose from a wide variety of news sources. It also means that many more news sources are available; for example, somebody who lives in Denver or New Delhi can now have the latest news from The New York Times sent to his smartphone as often as he wants.
British newspapers such as The Independent are already creating WhatsApp newsfeed for specific topics such as politics and elections. This allows them to reach tens of millions of potential new readers at little or no cost and expand their customer base around the world.
That, of course, expands the reach of big news outlets like The Times at the expense of local organizations. It also turns the hierarchy in the media upside down because the consumers can simply ignore the editors and consume only the news that they want.
Another potentially more disruptive development is that people can start sending out their news. For example, a person that sees an event happening, such as a crime or an accident, becomes a journalist by sending out video and photographs of the event over WhatsApp. All a person needs to become a journalist is a smartphone with a camera and a wireless connection, something a large percentage of the world’s population has.
News for the Whole World
A major side effect of the spread of WhatsApp is that a major news story such as a disaster, a terrorist attack, or the outbreak of war could spread to a large percentage of the world’s population almost instantly. Therefore a major development such as the assassination of a public figure could affect hundreds of millions of people at once.
A negative development here is that it could now be possible for a brilliant hoaxer to fool hundreds of millions of people at once with a false news story. All it would take is a story compelling enough to go viral. When it was exposed, such a hoax could destroy hundreds of millions of people’s trust in news and perhaps in WhatsApp itself.
The First Global News Media
The reach of WhatsApp as a means of disseminating the news is absolutely staggering. This simple app could reach more people than all the newspapers in the world, and it can do it quickly and instantly.
It looks as if WhatsApp could become the world’s most popular and influential source of news in a very short time. When that happens, it will completely change news itself by giving much of the world’s population an instant connection to news. Another staggering development here is that WhatsApp could form the first truly global news source. For the first time in history, people all over the world—in Sydney, Mumbai, New York, London, and Frankfurt—could be getting their news from the same place.
That means WhatsApp is far more than just instant messaging. It could be the first truly global news media, which could have interesting repercussions for everybody on the planet.