The world of large gatherings, celebrations, and international travel that we knew before the coronavirus outbreak is unlikely to return completely for some time. As a result, social media platforms and video messaging apps have never been more useful for families and friends to stay in touch.
Facebook identified and acted upon this change in social interaction by creating a new feature called ‘Messenger Rooms’, competing with other popular video messaging apps like Zoom which have seen a spike in popularity over recent months. Messenger Rooms allows up to 50 people to video chat at once for an unlimited amount of time, and arguably, one of its greatest benefits, even those without a Facebook account can join.
With security issues emerging with some popular video conferencing apps like Zoom, Facebook's Messenger Rooms may be a welcome alternative for many existing Facebook users. Just as many of us regularly use the Facebook Messenger app to contact friends and family through group chat messaging, this new addition to Facebook's features could easily meet or surpass the popularity of alternative services on the market.
All you need to do to set up a Messenger Room is open your Facebook Messenger app, tap create room in the ‘People’ tab and select the people you want to join your room. You can then share your room on your News Feed or through Groups and Events, and for people who don’t have a Facebook account, you can send them a link. You can join a room from either a mobile or desktop, so you don’t have to worry if your relative doesn’t have a smartphone. When you create a room, you can also choose who can see and join it.1
For people who have the Messenger app, AR filters are available, as well as 360 backgrounds and lighting effects to add an extra fun element to the experience.
Messenger Rooms has a number of key privacy controls in place to allow users to manage their rooms for a positive and safe experience. These controls include choosing who can join calls, having the option to lock rooms so no one else can join, removing unwanted participants, and reporting any violations (no reports will involve accessing audio or video calls).
Facebook has stated that "whether you use Rooms through your Facebook account or join as a guest, [they] don’t watch or listen to your audio or video calls". People participating in your call who you aren’t friends with on Facebook won’t be able to access any private information from your profile or elsewhere on Facebook. They will only be able to see public information like your name and city.
Participants not logged in to a Facebook account will be asked to provide basic information like their name to make it easier for the host and guests to identify them.
Using a sequence of random characters and numbers at the end, Facebook claims to have made Rooms links difficult for hackers to guess. To further protect your calls, a brand new link is generated for every new room created.
Although Rooms has strong privacy controls in place to protect its user, it is not yet end-to-end encrypted, but Facebook has confirmed that they are "actively working toward this for Messenger and Rooms".2 As a result, we would advise against using Facebook for business or highly confidential matters.