Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

At the end of 2020, Whatsapp announced it would be implementing privacy changes for its users. At the beginning of the following year, the messaging platform would change its terms of service, and all users would have their profile data shared with Facebook for advertising purposes.

This news came as a shock to the app’s users. According to the new privacy update, users would have to allow Facebook to use their information. And if users disagreed with the terms of service, they’d have to stop using the app. However, the statement didn’t clarify that only interactions with other businesses would be shared with Facebook and not other details, such as users’ private conversations. This led to a number of people collectively deciding they would stop using the platform in favor of other similar apps such as Telegram or Signal. Although the number of users that switched over from WhatsApp to the other apps wasn’t too big, the damage to the company—which remains one of the biggest digital texting services, having more than two billion users—was significant.

Following the swift backlash, the platform notified the public that the latest changes to its privacy policy would be pushed back to a later date so users would have more time to review the upcoming changes. However, that statement was also muddled by the fact that the company announced users would have to accept the new terms by the new set date or they’d no longer have access to their WhatsApp accounts. In reality, very few things were actually changing in terms of the platform’s privacy policy. Unfortunately, some media outlets and many users interpreted the new announcement as though the company would be able to access people’s private conversations, as well as other personal data. It was this particular strain of misinformation that was quickly shared on social media around the world, and truly did a lot of damage to the platform’s reputation.

Although these types of situations don’t happen very often, they send a clear signal to many brands and corporations. The response from the public about the platform’s announcement is a reminder of how organizations can be damaged relatively easily in the era of social media and misinformation.

This is why quickly dealing with any type of misinformation—especially on social media platforms—is so important for companies. The public is no longer passive and accepting of every situation that’s being presented to them, which is why it’s important for businesses to be clear in their messaging.


Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading crisis PR agency.