CIMA Launches Report of Increasing Use of Encrypted Messaging Apps

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Heather Gilberds
CIMAnAssociate Director and Editor

The Washington D.C-based Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) has released a report on how the news media are increasingly using encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Viber, and Signal  for reaching out to their audiences and possibly generating revenue.

In the report titled “Private Gatekeepers: Encrypted Messaging Apps and News Audiences”, Laura Oliver explores the benefits – and the limitations – of encrypted messaging apps (EMAs) for news distribution. Cases from Brazil, Belarus, India, Malaysia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, illustrate why newsrooms and media support organizations should carefully weigh the costs and benefits before embarking on a strategy to distribute news on private messaging apps.

The report finds that widespread use of encrypted messaging apps in developing countries and emerging democracies has prompted news outlets in these regions to experiment with them as mechanisms for distributing the news. It says: “From news products designed specifically for sharing via EMAs to private channels used to circumvent restrictions in repressive media environments, media outlets are testing how best to use these apps to reach audiences even in the face of technical challenges, resource demands, and sometimes, political pressure.”

Furthermore, the report finds that news outlets are turning to EMAs to reach new audiences and to bypass state censorship in authoritarian contexts; many newsrooms are experimenting with monetizing EMA content, however, it is still too early to tell whether EMAs can provide a reliable revenue stream; and platform dependency is a big issue when it comes to using EMAs for news—policy changes can have a big impact on how news outlets interact with their audiences.

It points out that in the past decade, hundreds of millions of people in developing countries and emerging democracies have begun to communicate with their friends, family, and coworkers through private and encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal. It notes that with these apps commanding a growing share of audience attention, news outlets are beginning to test them as a channel for delivering news and information.

The report says the stakes are high for struggling news outlets, but unlocking news audiences on encrypted messaging apps is no easy task. It concludes that: “News outlets must navigate the apps’ design limitations, mounting political pressure against encryption, and the precarity of relying on the ever-shifting policies of a third-party platform.”

The full report can be read online at https://www.cima.ned.org/publication/private-gatekeepers-encrypted-messaging-apps-and-news-audiences/.