Despite heightened awareness of the ability of private messaging apps to spread disinformation related to the coronavirus pandemic, WhatsApp said on Tuesday it would set new restrictions on message forwarding. Beginning today, messages marked as “extremely forwarded “— sent via a chain of five or more people — can be forwarded to a single person only. The step is intended to the pace at which knowledge travels through WhatsApp, putting on a more even footing the truth and fiction are on its highest level.
“We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful. In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organize public moments of support for frontline health workers,” Facebook-owned company WhatsApp, said in a blog post. “However, we’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of message forwarding which users have told us can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation. We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for a personal conversation.”
For much of the life of WhatsApp, it was simple for users to forward a single message with only a few taps to as many as 256 individuals. These messages were not classified initially as forwards, and WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption could make it almost difficult for authorities to decide who could use the App to promote hate speech or calls to violence.
WhatsApp began experimenting in 2018 with restrictions on how many times a message could be forwarded. For the first time, it also started to mark forwarded messages and add two arrows to indicate that a message has been sent twice. The Facebook-owned company has started restricting the number of individuals you can f a single message to only five contacts.
The new restrictions are very soft because nothing stops you from forwarding the same message to various people repeatedly. Yet adding more pressure has helped slow the overall message forwarding rate — forwards around the world are down 25 percent in the past year, WhatsApp reports.
During a massive pandemic-related surge in use, WhatsApp has come under the focus on how disinformation can be spread. Last month, CNN and other news outlets noticed the App being used to spread several misleading details about COVID-19 “cures” and hoaxes about the disease-related military operation. Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, has urged people to “Please stop posting unverified news on WhatsApp groups.”
Besides, WhatsApp has launched a bot made by the World Health Organization that provides healthcare professionals with information on the disease being screened. More than 10 million people are using the App, and WhatsApp has contributed $1 million to the Fact-Checking Network.