How did the WhatsApp outage affect Orthodox Jews and Israelis?

Published date08 October 2021
Publication titleJerusalem Post, The: Web Edition Articles (Israel)
Instead, he heard nothing. WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app he uses, was down, along with Facebook and Instagram, three of the most widely used social platforms in the world.

"I was worried that people who were trying to reach us wouldn't be able to," Lovy said. He began to worry about what would happen if the outage extended later into the week, when Za'akah would ready its mental health hotline for Orthodox Jews who have crises on Shabbat, when many other services are closed or inaccessible.

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"We have people contacting us on WhatsApp to get referrals for resources for therapists or lawyers, or just to talk and receive support," he said. "I get texts at 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock in the morning from people in crisis who need support or resources, who do they reach out to if not us? … The thought of Whatsapp going down on Shabbos is terrifying."

Lovy's fears did not come to pass: WhatsApp was back up after six hours, along with Facebook and Instagram. But the outage, which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said was the most significant interruption in service in years, brought into sharp focus the degree to which WhatsApp is baked into the communication infrastructure for most of the world's Jews — and how vulnerable that infrastructure may be.

With more than 2 billion users worldwide, WhatsApp is by far the most widely used instant messaging service in the world. Its simple platform, which works even on older flip phones, is the communication standard in many countries in Africa and the Middle East, and its early adoption in Israel and the relative unpopularity of iPhones there means it remains the country's text messaging app of choice.

In the United States, its dominance is perhaps most clear in the haredi Orthodox world.

Even as Orthodox rabbis were warning about the dangers to religious life posed by WhatsApp way back in 2014, as Facebook began to consider acquiring the platform, the app became popular in Orthodox communities as an easy way to communicate. "The rabbis overseeing divorces say WhatsApp is the No. 1 cause of destruction of Jewish homes and business," the Hasidic newspaper Der Blatt reported in Yiddish that year. Its dominance in the communities only increased over time, with misinformation and anti-mask activism spreading quickly through group-text channels that were already well established before the...

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