With most countries imposing mandatory lockdowns in order to counter further spread of COVID-19, social media has become the primary avenue for people to connect with each other. In such a time, when the cumulative daily activity across all social media platforms is at an all-time high, Facebook, one of the world’s most biggest technology companies, has continuously been rolling out new features across several of the services it owns, including WhatsApp and Instagram, in order to help users connect better. Here is a list of all features announced by Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram recently.
* Messenger Rooms: Facebook recently launched its own video-conferencing solution to rival popular players such as Zoom, Google Meet etc., known as Messenger Rooms, which can support up to 50 participants on a call, with no time limit. Additionally, one can even create or participate in a Messenger Rooms call via the Messenger app, even if he/she does not have a Facebook account.
* Supporting local businesses: Another initiative by Facebook is to support small businesses by helping them connect to their customers online. The company has launched ‘Support Small Business’ stickers and hashtags, and has added Businesses Nearby and Marketplace sections in the app menu to allow people to connect to their neighbourhood shops. The Business Resources Hub feature has also been added to keep business owners informed and to help them increase online interest. Moreover, a Business Inbox for Messenger is also in the works, as a part of Facebook for Business, similar to business versions of Instagram and WhatsApp.
* Information Centre and donations: A COVID-19-specific Information Centre has been created on Facebook, to provide the users with updates and latest news regarding the spread of the disease. A donation button has also been developed, which can be used by creators and celebrities during a Facebook Livestream to ease the process of collecting funds for COVID-19 relief.
* Extended support to Facebook’s initiative to help small businesses: All sticker packs launched on Facebook are available on Instagram too, and whenever one of these stickers is used on someone’s Insta story, all such stories are clubbed together under the sticker story on Instagram, to allow users to identify and support small businesses around them.
* Bulk comment deletion: A new feature rolled out by Instagram allows users to delete a large number of comments in a single go. This allows greater control over the comments thread, especially for users with millions of followers. Additional options to block and restrict comments from certain accounts have also been made available, and pinning comments is also in the works.
* Combating cyberbullying: In response to the recent ‘Bois Locker Room’ controversy which involved the inappropriate use of Instagram, the company released the fifth edition of its Community Standards Enforcement report on May 13, to keep the application safe for use and to enforce stricter policies to combat cyber bullying and harassment.
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* Increased desktop compatibility: Though mainly developed as a mobile application, a significant section of Instagram’s users access the app on their laptops and desktops as well. Recently, Instagram made live videos compatible with laptops, and is now adding the ability to save live IGTV videos on one’s profile, so that they persist beyond the usual 24-hour limit.
* Increase in number of participants allowed on video call: For a long time, WhatsApp allowed only four participants in a video call at a time, however this limit was increased in late April, now allowing up to eight participants to facilitate wider communication during the lockdown.
* Lockdown sticker packages: Ever since the launch of stickers on WhatsApp, they have consistently been garnering a lot of attention from the app’s millions of users. Furthering that push, WhatsApp launched a variety of new stickers to spread the ‘Stay At Home’ message. This has definitely been well received, as statistics show that stickers from this package are among the three most commonly used stickers over the last month.
* Messenger Rooms on WhatsApp Web: WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook has decided to integrate the two services even deeper, by allowing Messenger Rooms to be accessed via a shortcut button in the attachment section on WhatsApp Web.
* Expected future updates: Several other interesting updates are expected to be rolled out by the end of May. Some of the most widely anticipated ones include WhatsApp Pay, its own UPI-based digital payments service., disappearing messages, timed self-destructing messages similar to Snapchat texts, and in-app web page browsing, a feature already present on the Facebook and Instagram apps.
With Facebook being one of the Big Five in the technology world, and owning three of the world’s five most popular social media apps, these new features come as welcome additions to make the three apps even more user-friendly.