Technology

Facebook is looking for an executive to lead WhatsApp's operations in Brazil

Outside the United States, only India has a similar position, which indicates how relevant the country is for the messaging app

Photo: Lewis Tse Pui Lung/Shutterstock
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  • Brazil will be one of the first markets to receive WhatsApp Pay, a payments and money-transfer feature already being tested in India;
  • The executive will also be occupied with responding to WhatsApp’s role in the spread of fake news in Brazil.

Facebook is looking for an executive to fill a job vacancy for WhatsApp’s Head of Brazil. Outside the United States, only India has a similar position, which indicates how important Brazil is for the messaging service future.

More than 130 million Brazilians use WhatsApp on their cell phones, and 98% of this audience is made up of users who access the app at least once a day. The app has approximately 2 billion users worldwide.

Job posting for WhatsApp’s Head of Brazil. Image: Screenshot.

In February, WhatsApp has chosen Brazil to launch its first ever brand campaign in the world. The timing and the theme of the campaign’s first film were also revealing of the importance of Brazilan market to the Facebook-owned messaging app: Carnival season. 

“Brazil is one of the main markets for the company worldwide, so we decided to launch the campaign here and pay tribute to the solidarity of Brazilians inspired by one of the country’s dearest traditions,” Taciana Lopes, Head of Consumer Marketing at Facebook Brazil, declared at that time.

Facebook is set to launch WhatsApp Pay, a payments and money-transfer feature, this year. For now, only a trial version is running in India, but Mark Zuckerberg said in January that the technology will be available to users in countries where the messaging app has a strong presence, like Brazil and Mexico.

Seeking to surf the wave of digital payments transformation in emerging markets, Facebook’s choice for these countries is hardly a mere coincidence: besides being leaders in WhatsApp usage, those are places with plenty of room for growth when it comes to digital payments, due to a large unbanked population and inefficiency of traditional institutions.

As Nilton Kleina, a journalist focusing on technology, wrote for LABS: “The upcoming service will not only modify the company’s business model, but mainly open up new market horizons and in many regions.”

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the adoption of WhatsApp as a trade platform in Brazil. With physical stores closed during the quarantine period, many sellers saw the app as a way to keep in touch with customers and continue their business. A survey by the Aivo customer service solutions with 130 companies shows that conversations between users and companies on Whatsapp grew 516% between February and April.

The platform has become a key tool for small, medium and large companies alike. Via Varejo, owner of Brazilian retail chains Casas Bahia and Ponto Frio, provided the app for more than 7,000 salespeople and saw its e-commerce revenue skyrocket. Ri Happy, the largest Brazilian retailer specialized in toys, was basically absent from the web before the pandemic, but now takes orders by WhatsApp messages. And Cielo, the largest payment acquirer in Brazil, is dealing with Facebook to process payments through WhatsApp.

WhatsApp business strategy for Brazil must include a plan to controversies in politics

The executive will certainly be occupied with responding to WhatsApp’s role in the spread of fake news in Brazil. Opportunists take advantage of the platform’s reach across the country to disseminate misinformation or disinformation – and in an organized and well-funded way, some suspect, when it comes to messages of political nature.

Various lawsuits about the use of the app to share false news are pending in the Supreme Court. Misinformation networks as well as their benefactors are the subject of investigations by a congressional committee, the nation’s Electoral Court and the Federal Court of Accounts, an auditing body tied to Brazil’s Congress.

The Supreme Court has been investigating the spread of fake news in social media and messaging apps and the orchestration of defamation campaigns against its justices. Recently, the Federal Police raided properties in six states, seizing computers, phones and documents.

Facebook has announced last month the members of its Oversight Board and one of them hails from Brazil. Ronaldo Lemos, a lawyer specializing in digital law and a Professor at the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) told LABS that Facebook’s invitation made him happy, “at the same time aware of the enormous responsibility” at hands.

That is indeed a huge responsibility, because the board will act as a kind of ‘high court’, to which users or Facebook itself may appeal about issues surrounding the removal or replacement of controversial content on Facebook and Instagram. Again, WhatsApp presents a dilemma, because messages on the platform are encrypted and, unlike social-media posts, not made public.

The firm is aware of the problem at hands. In April, WhatsApp established a new limit on how often a message could be forwarded on the platform, to one contact each time. Since putting into place the new rule, globally there has been a 70% reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages, the company said.

Opportunities, challenges and dilemmas will certainly take up most of the daily work of WhatsApp’s upcoming Head of Brazil.