Clicker Beware: Are You Sure You Want To Watch?

Flickr (Luis)
Flickr (Lan Phantastic)

“Did you see that video from last Saturday night? You know, that one. I can’t even. God, she must be mortified, I heard the guards are getting involved- I’m not forwarding it, but sure it’s out now, you’ll get sent it. I’m just glad it wasn’t me who filmed it. Remember to delete it after you’ve watched it. Still wrecked from the weekend.  FML”

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last two years, or you don’t have a smartphone (41% of the Irish population) you’ve probably had a go on WhatsApp- the €14bn valued instant-messaging app. Its success is built on the instantaneous transfer of text, pictures and videos between a closed-network of contacts, who can all contribute. It’s been so popular that the good ol’ SMS text message has fallen in usage- down a staggering 45% the first quarter of this year compared to the high of late 2011.

Most of my phone communications go through WhatsApp. My SMS inbox is now a graveyard of exes, older relatives, spam, work colleagues, Garth Brooks fans and people I’m not generally too fond of.  I don’t know whether to pity or chastise people still using SMS. A technology so cheap and simple; it piggy-backs on phone calls made between network towers; hence the sometimes hours delay between sending and receiving- at no cost to mobile companies who still charge up to 12 cent for each one. Sorry Telefonica, you’ll have to find another way to stay afloat.

But what differentiates WhatsApp from other social media platforms (excluding its just-as-dirty cousin, Snapchat) is its closed-network ability. An incriminating picture or video posted on FB or Twitter that violates policy will be taken down almost instantly- with WhatsApp, it yours for as long as you want, even if you don’t want it in the first place. Consider the “recent” celebrity leaked pictures scandal- though the original hacks were made via the internet; the dissemination of images went mainly through WhatsApp. Any images that went up on FB and Twitter were taken down as soon as they were spotted- many people saw them, or got a link, via WhatsApp.

What really separates it from the rest is its smuttiness. Every week, there’s a new nasty, shocking, or just plain illegal pics/vids being spread. It’s all going round on WhatsApp. All the worst parts of the internet are now condensed into small bytes for general consumption. Why are they so popular? The desensitising effect of the web could be the reason, but the reality is, people like to see this stuff.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a celeb, a war correspondent, or a little worse for wear- there’s an insatiable appetite for people viewing you at your weakest.

So next time you receive an image or video from WhatsApp, just remember to tread lightly- and for God’s sake, disable your automatic storage. You’ve been warned.