WhatsApp limits message forwarding to slow spread of virus misinformation

On Tuesday, WhatsApp started to restrict users to sharing forwarded content one chat at a time after a jump in messages touting bogus medical advice since the start of the coronavirus crisis. Image: PA/RITCHIE B TONGO
WhatsApp tightened message forwarding limits on Tuesday, restricting users to sharing forwarded content one chat at a time after a jump in messages touting bogus medical advice since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

The pandemic, which has killed more than 70,000 people worldwide, has been accompanied by what the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called an “infodemic” of misinformation, prompting governments and other authorities to urge social media companies to do more to combat the problem.

A WhatsApp spokesperson said the new limit was in place indefinitely.

WhatsApp, which has more than two billion users worldwide, said in a blog post it made the change after observing a significant increase in the number of forwards since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

“We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation,” the statement said.

A WhatsApp spokesperson said the new limit was in place indefinitely.

The service has been imposing gradual curbs on message forwarding since 2018, after viral rumours on its platform triggered a wave of mass beatings and deaths in India.

Since 2019, users have been able to forward a message to only five individuals or groups at once, down from an earlier limit of 20.

The app also labelled any messages that had been forwarded more than five times.

Facebook and Twitter have responded to the deluge of inaccurate medical information posted in recent months by barring users from posting misleading information about the virus, including denials of expert guidance and encouragement of fake treatments.

But direct content moderation is not possible on WhatsApp, where chats are protected by end-to-end encryption blocking even the app itself from viewing content shared by users.

That allows groups of hundreds of people to exchange texts, photos and videos, with no way to monitor the messages’ origin or full reach.

WhatsApp said in its blog post that the previous limits set on forwards led to a 25% decrease in such messages.

The app also encourages people to flag suspicious content to fact-checking organisations, and has enabled the WHO and national health authorities to share reliable information about the virus on the service using automated accounts.

By Reuters and Kate Paul

1 COMMENT

  1. Without any Prejudice:
    I unfortuanately believe that whatzap is being oppertunistic in unilaterally taking this step of enforcing the forwarding of only one message at a time for the reason they say why they are doing it. It is not for spreading false news because you can spread news on any type of media platform whether it is true or false! Whatzap is using this for their own gain in making more profit and ensuring their coffers are lined through a very difficult time for clients/customers being confined in lockdown who only have whazap as one of the media social platform which they have available to contact their loved ones. Some clients/ customers only have whatzap that they use to have contact with their loved ones not living with them and now in this financially constrained times through no fault of your customers, you abuse the situation that arose where individuals have spread fake news and YOU UNILATERALLY DECIDED TO PUNISH THE MAJORITY! SHAME ON YOU! I believe as I understand it, that you fall within the grouping mentioned by the President of SA, the perfect example of an organisation that is being opertunistic, in fleecing your customers/clients during this very difficult, emotional, scary and desperate time where a high percentage have already lost their jobs, are staring financial ruin in the face and might even loose their homes and cars after lockdown! We South Africans, your customers, do not need this NOW! Please stop using this lameass excuse and reverse your decision to the previous regulation regading being able to send/ forward messages to 5 people. Regards. Lauretha Bezuidenhout

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