How did the WhatsApp outage affect Orthodox Jews and Israelis? – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on October 9, 2021

Asher Lovy was expecting a flood of notifications on Monday morning when he posted information about a sexual abuse case to several WhatsApp chat groups devoted to tracking the work of his organization, which provides support to survivors of sexual abuse within the Orthodox community.

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 wouldnt be able to, Lovy said. He began to worry about what would happen if the outage extended later into the week, when Zaakah 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 oclock, 3 oclock 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.

Lovys 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 worlds 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 countrys text messaging app of choice.

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

Its not just rumors that take hold on Orthodox WhatsApp chats. We run all our groups of employees on various businesses through WhatsApp, said Mordy Getz, a community leader who owns a health clinic and Judaica store in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

A unique confluence of factors drives the penetration and lasting power of WhatsApp in Orthodox communities.

Many community members have filters on their phones to prevent them from accessing external websites and social media platforms, so they receive all their information through WhatsApp, according to Getz. (This creates its own problems, as misinformation can circulate easily and quickly without the ability to fact-check.)

Whats more, WhatsApps integrated voice notes option allows people with wide-ranging skills in written language to communicate with each other, a potential issue in communities where critics have charged that yeshivas do not always leave graduates with a strong secular education.

And WhatsApp video and phone calls dont carry long distance calling fees. For Jewish families in which some members are Orthodox and others are not, or some members live in Israel and others in the Diaspora, WhatsApp can serve as a vital convening ground.

Every Orthodox Jew has people in Israel and Europe, said Getz. You have to have WhatsApp if you want to talk to them.

When that stops working, the distance can feel greater.

Orli Gal, a Philadelphia nurse, said her family, which includes people in Israel and across the United States, would have been celebrating a milestone in her sisters medical training over WhatsApp Monday when the outage cut off their communications.

Weve got people all over the world, and some of them are pretty elderly. This is the only way they know how to get in touch, she said. WhatsApp is the only thing that connects us all.

Mendel Horowitz, a therapist and teacher in Jerusalem, was suddenly unable to be in touch with his 20-year-old son, Alty, who was vacationing in Egypts Sinai Desert with friends.

I dont want to say I was up all night worried because I wasnt, he said. But it was on our minds that this is the only way to reach him and we cant.

The outage got Horowitz thinking about his own familys reliance on WhatsApp and whether it was wise given the apps vulnerabilities. Its not an emergency, but it gets us thinking about the next time somebody goes somewhere, we should have a plan B, he said.

Horowitz wasnt alone.

If WhatsApp were to disappear, there would be no backup infrastructure for communication within the Orthodox community, said Lovy.

The outage, Gal said, mostly made me rethink: Why did we allow Facebook to buy it in the first place?

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How did the WhatsApp outage affect Orthodox Jews and Israelis? - The Jerusalem Post

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