Messenger services – an overview

Over the past decade, messenger services have rapidly grown in popularity and user base. When comparing social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Messenger, WhatsApp is the world‘s third-largest platform and the most widely used messenger service after Facebook and YouTube. It is closely followed by Facebook Messenger and WeChat, which is predominantly used in China but is growing in popularity elsewhere.

Private messages can be sent on many other social networks like Instagram. Facebook, which owns WhatsApp and Instagram, encourages the push toward private communication on all its platforms. In doing so the company is following calls for more privacy – an issue it has frequently been criticised for – but is committing a grave error by confusing private with privacy. Perhaps more nefariously, the move to private communication allows Facebook to absolve itself of responsibility for disinformation and hate speech on its platform due to encryption of private messages. Encrypted messages cannot be viewed by Facebook, meaning it can claim to be powerless to take action. According to the latest figures published in 2018, the messenger service Telegram has 200 million users worldwide16. The Swiss messenger service Threema has five million as of 201817. Discord, which is a messenger service popular amongst gamers, has 250 million user accounts worldwide18. Messages sent via WhatsApp, Threema, Signal and Wire are end-to-end encrypted by default. Telegram and Facebook Messenger offer encryption which has to be enabled by enabling a ‚secret chat‘ function. Discord, WeChat and the direct message feature of Instagram do not have end-to-end encryption, meaning content can easily be viewed by the platforms and third parties.

16 Cf. Statista 2018. 17 Cf. Statista 2020. 18 Cf. Black 2019.