Emergence of dark social

Messaging apps transform the way we live, share, work, pay

After years of posting publicly on ‘walls’, in 2011, online communication went private. People didn’t want to use social in the same manner of publicly over-sharing. Dark Social was born, in the form of platforms like WhatsApp, WeChat and Snapchat – more nuanced and ephemeral social channels that gave us more control and reduced our public social footprint.

Rise of the Dark Social

by Philipp Frank



“This animation illustrates in an abstract way the development of dark social influence worldwide. Starting in China 2011, small particles form into an energy ball. Extending human communication and providing new ways of interaction. Elements start to break out like sparks, forming a wave that finally takes over the whole universe. Transforming the way we communicate.”

Philipp is a multidisciplinary artist, creating geometric pattern style murals and video installations.

Dark social and ephemeral messaging

In 2011 social communication developed even further, and gave us a bunch of tools unlike anything that had come before. The kids of 2011 didn’t want to use social in the same manner of publicly over-sharing; 2011 gave us WhatsApp and WeChat, more nuanced social channels where we could talk privately within smaller groups, mirror the ephemeral nature of conversation and ultimately reduce our public social footprint.

China’s WeChat may have started as a humble messaging app, but has evolved and grown in scale and complexity: It’s now more than just a social platform; it’s become an integral part of modern Chinese culture and a significant economic power, set to add $3.7 trillion and 95 million jobs to the global economy.

2011 also gave us Snapchat, and the rise of an ephemeral brand of messaging for a new generation of social media users. The launch of Stories pushed this even further, giving people the possibility to tie together those moments and build their own narratives as they documented their lives and shared their experiences. Social had never felt more visual and in-the-moment. Snapchat’s ideas stuck. Facebook and Instagram released copy-cat formats and in 2018 Facebook announced that Stories would be the most popular way people share content.

What else happened in 2011?

Snapchat launches

The multimedia app arrives. Enter ephemeral content and dog face filters.

Twitch launches

Game streaming platform Twitch.tv launches. It now has 15M daily active users.

Spotify launches in US

The music platform booms after its North American launch.The social sharing function plays a key role in its growth.

Friday goes viral

Rebecca Black uploads her infamous song and accompanying video for Friday to YouTube. It’s tracked up 123 million views to date.