UK government now on WhatsApp

The UK government launches a WhatsApp channel to serve as a modern-day town crier.

More than 2,500 followers have joined the British government’s Whatsapp channel in an hour after it was announced on Monday (January 22nd).

“Hey WhatsApp,” the first message said, followed by a waving hand emoji. “We’ve arrived,” it declared.

“From now on, if there’s information you need to know from the UK government, we’ll WhatsApp you,” the announcement read.

A second message – a sticker of a town crier – was sent later. It showed Alan Myatt, holder of two Guinness World Records, announcing the launch of the new communication channel outside the Houses of Parliament in London.

According to the chat history, the channel was created on Thursday (January 18th) the previous week. Users can react to the announcements with emojis but cannot send their own messages, which is in line with WhatsApp Channels policy.

The channel is marked with a green verified account badge and members of the public can subscribe and unsubscribe from it at any time.

The government said the channel would amplify key messages like tax return deadlines, information on childcare support or cost of living payments. One of the first announcements will be sent to inform users of discounted rail tickets from the Great British Rail Sale, it said.

Cabinet Office Minister Alex Burghart said the government was looking forward to seeing how people respond to the new service and will develop it based on user feedback.

“We are always looking for new ways to communicate with the public. WhatsApp is a hugely popular platform in the UK so we hope our new and entirely opt-in WhatsApp channel will be a useful way of providing people with updates from the government,” Burghart said.

Helen Charles, who oversees WhatsApp’s public policy in Europe, said the new channel would “give people in the UK better access to reliable information through the most private broadcast service available.”

One recent study showed WhatsApp to be a middle-of-the-ground app when it comes to data privacy, doing better than two other Meta-owned platforms, Facebook and Instagram, but trailing Signal, one of its main rivals.

In 2022, WhatsApp featured in a massive data leak, with 500 million user records reportedly put for sale online.

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