March 26, 2020
Facebook’s Instagram recently debuted Co-Watching, a feature that makes it possible for users to video chat while they browse the app. With Co-Watching, users can engage in direct-message video-chat conversations to look at saved, liked and suggested photos and videos together. Co-Watching is just one example of ways that Facebook and Instagram are shifting to accommodate users and communities during the coronavirus pandemic, when many are confined to home. Instagram first began testing Co-Watching a year ago.
CNBC reports that, “last week, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the biggest role Facebook can play is encouraging people to take social distancing orders seriously.” Instagram stated it plans to “expand the amount of educational resources the app shows in its search results, ramp up the removal of COVID-19 content unless it is posted by a credible health organization, and roll out sticker features that promote accurate information and allow users to donate to relevant nonprofits.”
Instagram also stated that it will “continue to prioritize safety, connecting people with accurate information, and encouraging support as the COVID-19 outbreak evolves.” CNBC reports that, “Facebook has been one of the most proactive companies in responding to the outbreak of the coronavirus,” both in banning coronavirus ads that “could lead to scams or price gouging” and offering “a variety of support” for its employees including one month of paid leave for workers who need to care for a sick relative.
TechCrunch notes that Co-Watching “could lead to long usage sessions, incentivize users to collect a great depository of Saved posts to share and spur more video calls that drag people into the app.” It also suggests that the new feature “will remain a powerful feature long after the quarantines and social distancing end.”
Screensharing app Squad, which launched in January 2019, popularized the ability to co-view content while browsing social media networks, and when TechCrunch covered the launch, it suggested that Facebook and Snap might “try to copy it.” With the debut of Co-Watching, the question is whether Squad, as the pioneer, will “hold its own, or if Instagram Co-Watching will just popularize the concept and send users searching for more flexible options like Squad.”
Squad allows viewers to “screenshare anything, including websites and your camera roll.” Instagram chief executive Adam Mosseri said the company is “not currently working” on a “full-fledged screensharing feature.”
When Instagram users “launch a video chat from the Direct inbox or chat thread, they’ll see a ‘Posts’ button that launches Co-Watching … [with] up to six people [able to] Co-Watch at once on Instagram, consuming feed photos and videos but not IGTV posts.” Crucially, “if one participant is blocked from viewing a post, it’s ineligible for Co-Watching.”
TechCrunch notes that Co-Watching could help Instagram users avoid “passive content consumption … [that] can inspire envy, poor self-esteem and leave users deflated.” Active sharing, meanwhile, “can have a positive effect on well-being.”