Once upon a time, Snapchat’s unique feature was its ephemeral posts that helped protect user’s privacy, especially for more compromising content. Since then, however, almost all social networks and instant messaging platforms have implemented a similar feature or at least tried to. It definitely took a while but Facebook is finally catching up and has announced a new Vanish Mode that’s coming to its own Messenger app and Instagram in the coming days.
The rationale for ephemeral messages is pretty simple but its implications aren’t. There are times you don’t want something going out of your circle or conversations and either you don’t trust the other person or you don’t want the content to stay on someone’s server. While it does give users more control over the lifetime of their messages, disappearing messages have also emboldened reckless actions from people who may have put too much faith in those features.
Facebook presents its new Vanish Mode as a foolproof system to keep private things private. To some extent, it’s almost more like web browsers’ incognito or private browsing modes where your messages disappear once they’ve been seen and you leave that chat. In other words, you have to explicitly go into that Vanish Mode, indicated by a different color theme, by swiping up from a chat.
Vanish Mode offers at least one safeguard for people who take screenshots of those ephemeral messages. In that mode, you will be notified when someone does that but Facebook doesn’t say if it actually prevents someone from taking a screenshot in the first place. You could complain after the fact but once that screenshot has been taken, there’s no taking it back.
Vanish Mode is rolling out first on Facebook’s own Messenger for those in the US and other countries. Instagram will soon be getting a similar feature but it seems that it will require users to update to the new unified messaging experience that combines Messenger and Instagram direct messages.