Facebook is buying WhatsApp in a cash-and-stock deal worth up to $19bn, as the world’s leading social network enters the fast-growing chat app market that is popular among younger generations and emerging markets.

The Menlo Park-based social network is acquiring an app which boasts more than 450m users who use it to message without paying high fees. Users of the app send almost as many messages as the number of text messages sent over the entire global telecoms network.

The purchase is Facebook’s largest by far, dwarfing the $1bn purchase of Instagram in 2012 which ranked as the social media website’s previously biggest deal.

WhatsApp is a leading player in the chat app world which has grown rapidly in the last couple of years. It is more dominant in countries outside the US, particularly in emerging markets.

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