For years, Meta (then Facebook) wanted to unify Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. It began implementing that plan by allowing Instagram users to talk to Facebook Messenger users three years ago. But WhatsApp integration never came. WhatsApp was the only end-to-end encrypted service of the three, which was a problem. Still, Meta wanted to bring the same type of encryption to Instagram and Facebook Messenger.
Three years later, Meta has quietly updated its Instagram and Facebook Messenger apps to remove cross-platform chat support. Soon, you won’t be able to chat between the two apps. All existing cross-platform conversations will be available in read-only mode.
Why is Meta pulling the plug? There’s no official explanation, but I have a few theories.
“A few years ago, we introduced a new Messenger experience in Instagram DMs which enabled people to message and call a FB account (Messenger) from an Instagram account and vice versa,” Meta spokesperson Alex Dziedzan told The Verge. “Starting in mid-December, we will begin removing this feature. However, people can continue to message and call their contacts on Facebook, Instagram or Messenger.”
Previously, Meta quietly updated support documents for Instagram and Facebook to announce the big functionality change. Those updates were first seen on November 21st, nearly a month before the deadline.
Here’s what will happen once the cross-app chats are gone:
- You won’t be able to start new conversations or calls with Facebook accounts from Instagram.
- Any existing chats on Instagram that you’ve had with Facebook accounts will become read-only, even if these Facebook accounts are removed from the chat. This means that you and others with Instagram accounts can’t send new messages in these chats.
- Facebook accounts won’t be able to view your Activity Status or whether you’ve seen a message.
- Any existing chats you’ve had with Facebook accounts won’t move to your inbox on Facebook or Messenger.
This brings us to the reasons why Meta might be doing it. First of all, it’s unclear how many people take advantage of this feature. Most internet users likely have both Facebook and Instagram accounts. They would not need cross-platform support to talk to each other. Also, they might rely on WhatsApp for more secure, more private chats.
Supporting Instagram-Messenger chats costs money, so that might be the simplest reason why Meta is pulling the feature.
But say Meta isn’t happy with the current usage figures for Facebook or Instagram. By removing cross-app communication support, Meta can force Instagram-only users to get on Facebook. Or the other way around.
Then there’s also the worry of regulation, at least in Europe. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have both been designated as gatekeepers, so Meta will have to comply with interoperability requests. I’ve already explained what that might mean. Long story short, it’s complicated, and it might not be warranted for a competing platform to ask for, say, WhatsApp support.
However, Meta is already working on implementing such support in WhatsApp. At the same time, Facebook doesn’t want Messenger to be labeled as a gatekeeper, and it’s fighting that designation.
Decoupling Instagram from Facebook Messenger might help with that. But that’s just speculation. But Instagram-Messenger chats are not available in Europe, to begin with.
I’ll also point out that a WhatsApp-Instagram-Messenger chat service sounds like wishful thinking right now. And I’m not sure anybody would want such a complication. I’d rather have three separate chat apps on my phone, each handling messaging within that social community.