WhatsApp are rolling out a new disappearing messages feature as part of their latest app update. When I first saw a headline about it, to be honest my heart sank - I've seen so many children struggle to understand the impact of messages that effectively disappear on other platforms (here's looking at you Snapchat) - as soon as they can no longer see them they very quickly become blind to their impact on others. But thankfully this isn't nearly as dramatic as that and is clearly intended as a feature for tidying up adult chats. It's still one for parents to keep an eye on though.
After you or your child have updated the app they will be asked whether they want to enable disappearing messages on each individual or group app. Enabling means that messages disappear after 7 days and not immediately. Snapchat, on the other hand, deletes Snaps after they've been opened, deletes unopened Snaps sent to a group chat in 24 hours, and all other unopened Snaps in 30 days.
The 'Disappearing Messages' feature has to be enabled separately for each chat window — whether an individual or group conversation — and can be accessed by clicking the name of the individual contact or the group on WhatsApp. When enabled, the new messages sent by a user will disappear for the selected contacts after seven days.
So what do parents need to know:
- how this feature works so they can go through it with their children.
- to make sure their child knows they don't have to enable disappearing messages and you may prefer to suggest that they don't use the feature.
- if your child receives a nasty or concerning message in a chat with disappearing messages enabled - they can and should still screenshot it to save it. They can also forward the messages to a new chat window with the disappearing messages option turned off - that way they wont be removed.
- they need to make sure their child also knows that these messages never actually disappear although they appear to, in a particularly horrendous case of online bullying, for example, it is possible to get disclosure of messages from the app
- when a user replies to a disappearing message, the quoted text might also remain in the chat after seven days.
- Disappearing messages will also land in user backups but will be deleted after the user restores messages from it.