How to ... use WhatsApp’s disappearing messages

WhatsApp will soon block screenshots of ‘view once’ messages - but how do you set messages to disappear?

WhatsApp is set to introduce new features that will give its users more control over their privacy. While much of the focus was on the “quiet exit” from a group chat, with only the admins notified when you leave instead of the wider group watching you flounce, there was another planned addition that is worth noting.

At some point in the (hopefully) near future, WhatsApp will prevent users from screenshotting messages intended to be viewed once. It’s a follow-on from WhatsApp’s introduction of disappearing messages last year, tapping into the desire for more privacy that platforms such as Snapchat have previously recognised.

Why use disappearing messages? There is that above-mentioned privacy factor. While screenshots can still be taken - for now at least - having messages automatically clear out of your chat app will mean any message you may later regret will be consigned to the digital rubbish bin once the specified time period has passed.

Then there is the impact on your phone’s storage. Using disappearing messages will lighten WhatsApp’s load on your device. If you send a photo as “view once”, it won’t be saved to your camera roll either, and fewer messages and media items means a smaller back up for your account too.


There are two types of disappearing messages on WhatsApp. First, there are messages - text included - that will disappear from the chat after a set period of time, anything from 24 hours to 90 days. Then there are the messages, such as photos and videos, that you can set to “view once” as you send them. It doesn’t mean that all messages sent in future will be view once by default; you can decide as you go. But once the image has been opened, the recipient can’t access it again.

So now you know why you should use disappearing messages, and what they mean on WhatsApp, how do you go about using them?

Disappearing chats

All chats can be set to expire after a set length of time, with options for 24 hours, seven days or 90 days. For an existing chat, you can set disappearing messages through the chat setting.

There are different procedures for iOS and Android. On iOS, open the chat you want to set time limits on, and tap the recipients name at the top of the screen. Scroll down and tap Disappearing Messages. Select the time limit you want to put on your chats. On Android, you can find the same settings by tapping the three dots in the top-right corner of the chat.

A couple of things to note. The time limit only applies to new messages that you send in the chat after you’ve enabled the disappearing messages feature. That means your old chat record will still be there - and available to anyone with access to the conversation. It also won’t affect any messages saved to your device.

Secondly, once you turn on disappearing messages, the other participants in the chat will be notified that disappearing messages are on.

If you want to have disappearing messages turned on for all new chats by default, you can set the default message timer to your desired length. On iOS, find it under Settings> Account>Privacy and scroll down to Default Message Timer. Android users will find it by tapping the three dots on the main WhatsApp chat screen, then under Account>Privacy and Default Message Timer.

‘View once’

These messages are set to disappear once they are viewed. To activate this, select the photo or video you want to send. In the caption field, you’ll see a small “1″. Tap that to set the message to view once. The process is the same for both iOS and Android.

When the message is opened, it is marked as such in the chat. But if someone screenshots the message, you won’t be told. This is what WhatsApp is changing; it will block users from circumventing the limited viewing of the photo or video by taking a screengrab.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist