Facebook’s unification plan for WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger creates division in the ranks

Facebook social media messaging WhatsApp Instagram Messenger
Facebook is looking to merge messaging functionality across its WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger apps.

Facebook’s chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg has unveiled a rather divisive strategy that is supposed to unify its three core social media applications used by around 2.6 billion people.

The social media giant said it had begun a “long process” towards integrating its three most popular applications with a goal of completion by the end of this year or early 2020.

The project is said to require thousands of Facebook employees to reconfigure how WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger function at their most basic levels.

Facebook said it plans to homogenise the underlying architecture of WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger into a holistic single infrastructure to enable users to conduct cross-application communications for the first time – a move that has been keenly anticipated by social media aficionados.

Mr Zuckerberg, Facebook’s embattled leader, hopes to “increase Facebook’s utility and keep users highly engaged inside the company’s ecosystem”. The ultimate aim is likely a bid to reduce appetite for rival messaging services, such as those offered by Apple and Google.

“If users can interact more frequently with Facebook’s apps, the company might also be able to increase its advertising business or add new revenue-generating services,” The New York Times reported, citing undisclosed sources.

Double-edged sword

On the other side of the raging debate concerning Facebook’s market practices comes criticism from tech commentators that combining the three messaging apps has the potential to redefine how billions of people connect with one another while strengthening Facebook’s grip on user data – thereby bring up the familiar chestnuts of antitrust, privacy and security.

The move is being hailed as an efficiency improvement to raise “Facebook’s utility and keep users highly engaged” which highlights the continued trend of centralisation being executed by Facebook’s Mr Zuckerberg by imposing his authority over units he once vowed to leave alone.

Back in 2014, Facebook paid around US$19 billion (A$26 billion) to acquire WhatsApp – the largest takeover in social media history at the time that hauled in 450 million monthly users – with WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum cooling criticisms of the company losing its roots and principles by declaring that “if partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it.”

However, five years on and things have changed.

Mr Zuckerberg’s persistent efforts to unify Facebook’s sprawling set of features has “caused strife within Facebook”.

Instagram’s founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, left the company last year after Mr Zuckerberg “began weighing in more”.

Furthermore, WhatsApp’s founders Mr Koum and Brian Acton also departed on the back of internal clashes regarding business operations and overlapping philosophies regarding serving social media users.

More recently, dozens of WhatsApp employees clashed with Mr Zuckerberg over the integration plan on internal message boards and during a contentious staff meeting in December.

One of the concerns behind Facebook’s amalgamation of WhatsApp, Instagram and its own Facebook Messenger service is that they all require different conditions for users to sign up. WhatsApp asks for user’s phone numbers while Facebook goes further by requesting actual identification. The concern is that by fusing all three services, Facebook could entrench its already-extensive control over more than 2 billion user profiles.

This could potentially dump millions of people into a situation where their true identities are matched across services thereby reveal their broader social media activity and putting a face to the name – an eventuality many users would rather keep private.

From past to present

Facebook was embroiled in stinging privacy fiasco last year which revealed that it was actively quarterbacking user data to third-party private companies and was even accused of helping to sway political elections.

Mr Zuckerberg was dragged in to testify before the US Congress where he was repeatedly grilled by US legislators – a process that has arguably helped shift Facebook’s focus towards engineering better security measures and ease up on its revenue-busting business model.

Not only Facebook, but other tech giants have begun to encounter what some call as “user growth exhaustion”. Consistently expansive rates of user growth had to come to a slow-down at some stage.

In July last year, investors saw the values of Facebook and Twitter slide to recent lows on the back of disappointing company results that according to some market commentators were signalling “bifurcation” amongst social media valuations including the so-called FANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google).

In other words, social media valuations may have reached a peak.

With Facebook working overtime to consolidate its market position via both privacy and security tweaks, as well as, across-the-board consolidation of its most popular apps – the company clearly wants to stand out from the crowd. Even if it means upsetting a few people along the way.

George is an award-winning market analyst who has authored articles and editorial opinion pieces for multiple publications around the world. He has written about a wide variety of topics including financial markets, stocks, trading, politics and economics.