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Forget Zoom: Facebook launches 50-person video calls for free

Facebook Messenger Rooms
(Image credit: Facebook)

Take that Zoom — Facebook is launching Messenger Rooms, a new video call feature that include up to 50 people with no time limit. 

With many people working and staying at home under quarantine regulations, video calling and conferencing services like Zoom have experienced an enormous rise in demand. Zoom recently revealed that more than 300 million people joined meetings on the service on April 21, a 50% jump from the beginning of the month.

Not one to be left behind, Facebook is rolling out several new video products, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced today on a live stream. 

The biggest new feature, and a direct challenger to Zoom, is Messenger Rooms, which allows Facebook members to create public or private video chatrooms that can hold up to 50 people for an unlimited amount of time. By comparison, free Zoom calls can hold up to 100 participants for 40 minutes.

Starting today, Facebook users can create rooms from either Facebook or Messenger (and later, through Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Portal). Once in a Messenger Room, you can use a virtual background (just like Zoom backgrounds) and use Facebook's augmented reality filters. A new set of filters can brighten dark rooms and touch up your appearance.

In a very rare move, Facebook is allowing people without accounts to join a Messenger Room via a link.

Room calls are not end-to-end encrypted, but Facebook says it will not listen in on any calls. And room creators can remove participants at any time.  

Zuckerberg shaded Zoom's privacy and security issues in his live stream, saying, "A lot of the time that I’ve spent on this over the last few weeks as we’ve been building this out and getting ready to ship has been on privacy, security, integrity reviews, and how do we make sure that a lot of the use cases that that have been problematic around Zoom are not going to be things that are replicated here.

Facebook Messenger Rooms

(Image credit: Facebook)

Messenger Rooms isn't the only new video upgrade that Facebook is introducing. They're also adding new live-streaming features to both Facebook and Instagram. Facebook Live will reinstate a feature called Live With That, where users can invite another person to stream with them. And a donate button will be made available so users can raise money while live streaming.

Instagram users will be able to post their live streams to IGTV as well as to Stories once they're done. Plus, Instagram Live streams will be viewable on desktop for the first time.

Facebook is also doubling the maximum number of people on WhatsApp calls from four to eight and adding video calls to Facebook Dating. Those new features will roll out in the coming weeks.