An ultra-Orthodox web filtering company will begin blocking photos and videos sent via WhatsApp as of February 11.
The smart phone message service, which is wildly popular among ultra-Orthodox Jews, has grown increasingly controversial in recent weeks, with rabbis and community newspapers condemning it in public. Now, key features of WhatsApp will no longer be available to some members of the ultra-Orthodox community.
Meshimir, a filtering company linked to the Satmar Hasidic group, announced in an email on February 9 that filtered phones will block WhatsApp from sending audio, video, and photos. The Forward reported on February 6 that the company was preparing the change.
“As you surely know, our filtering policies are tailored to meet the standards that our customer-base strive to achieve, and is updated from time-to-time according to the rabbinical guidance received,” the company wrote in an email to subscribers. “The latest change was instituted in accordance with that policy.”
Meshimir did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It’s unclear how Meshimir will block the photos and videos. Their smart phone filtering service, which costs $12.99 a month, must be installed by hand by Meshimir technicians. The company’s website doesn’t say how the service functions, though it’s possible that the technicians “jailbreak” the iPhones of subscribers.
Meanwhile, ultra-Orthodox WhatsApp users are circulating jokes about the new restrictions. One viral joke, which parodies the Meshimir email, posits a new Meshimir filter to block thoughts.
“Our next Generation of blocking and filtering has gone beyond the reach of mobile smart phones,” the viral joke reads. “Our new platform will tap into our users brains and will respond with precision in the event of a bad Thought, sight vision, and even bad gossip. Users will be put into an immediate coma upon detection of an impending penetration of a bad thought.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.