The VICE Guide to Right Now

Can WhatsApp Handle the Sudden Spike in Video Calls?

The free video call and chat app is battling much more than just fake news.
20 March 2020, 7:35am
Can WhatsApp Handle the Sudden Spike in Video Calls
Photo by Rachit Tank / Unsplash

As the novel coronavirus infects 2,45,913 people across the world at the time of writing this, everyone from private sector employees to party animals are being asked to substitute their office and bar tables for their home desks. But just because going out has been cancelled, doesn’t mean talking to your seven different best friends has to be. From therapists helping people cope with the health crisis to couples who have suddenly been catapulted into a long-distance situation, video calling has emerged as a major quarantine companion. There’s just one small issue: Facebook isn’t sure that they can handle the sudden surge in people using WhatsApp or Messenger calling features, especially if the pandemic worsens.

According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, both these apps are seeing exponentially high levels of calling via WhatsApp, especially in countries facing the crisis. “In terms of stats, we’re seeing very elevated levels of use in Italy and in all countries that have been affected. Calling, right — so in terms of WhatsApp or Messenger for calling is more than double overall what it normally is,” he said on a press call.

While WhatsApp generally only sees such a spike around New Year’s Eve, when everyone is finding the middle ground between getting shitfaced and wishing their families, the COVID-19 self-quarantine has made this increase in traffic a daily occurrence. Now, parent company Facebook is trying to make sure that the servers don’t crash if it wants to prevent people’s positive spirits from doing the same. “We’re trying to make sure that we can stay in front because of course right now this isn’t a massive outbreak in the majority of countries around the world yet, but it is – if it gets there then we really need to make sure we’re on top of this from an infrastructure perspective to make sure that things don’t melt down, and we can continue to provide the level of service that people need in a time like this,” explained Zuckerberg on the call.

In fact, this isn’t just a WhatsApp problem, although the app has emerged as a favourite probably because it’s free. According to the The New York Times, access to the internet, especially home servers, could get super strained with the spike in the number of people relying on it for work, information and memes. Virgin Media, UK’s second largest broadband server also announced that it would work on ensuring that everyone got online access. Even other video calling services such as Skype and Zoom have seen a sudden surge in bosses wanting to make sure their employees aren’t using work from home for Netflix-and-nap, thus stressing their servers. In fact, even Netflix has decided to reduce its streaming quality in Europe to make sure binge-watching schedules run smoothly. Currently, the general view is that companies are working on it, but are worried that this could be a lot worse if the coronavirus spreads rapidly in heavily populated countries like India.

But while #foreveralone memes and cat content have made it slightly easier to deal with all the anxiety and concern that comes with the coronavirus, WhatsApp has also had a huge fake news problem in this global pandemic. People are peddling everything from bogus recipes to fake cures for coronavirus through WhatsApp forwards, so much so that Facebook even had to release an info hub to verify facts in an effort to counter the infodemic. Still, our quarantines would be a lot less chill if we no longer had the option to see a friendly face on the other side of this black mirror.

Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.

Advertisement