With the intent to curb the spread of COVID-19 related misinformation WhatsApp is imposing limits on the forwarding of messages. Starting today, WhatsApp users will be able to forward messages to just one chat at a time. The changes will be made both on the Android and iOS platforms.
To recall, WhatsApp began labeling forward messages and introduced the limit of forwarding messages in 2018. The step was initially launched in India with a limit to five users (due to the spread of misinformation on the cross-messaging platform that led to mob lynching in the country) and was followed by a global rollout later next year.
The company back then cited that it allowed reducing the volume of messages forward by 25% worldwide. WhatsApp has yet again taken the initiative (to save itself for scrutiny) to put the additional restriction in order to curtail the rise of misinformation.
“Last year we introduced users to the concept of messages that have been forwarded many times. These messages are labelled with double arrows to indicate they did not originate from close contact. In effect, these messages are less personal compared to typical messages sent on WhatsApp. We are now introducing a limit so that these messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time,” WhatsApp mentioned in its blog post.
While fake news, hate speech, etc are traceable on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, the same is not possible on WhatsApp as it is end-to-end encrypted (simply to say it restricts authorities from reading the content of a text). The added restriction will at least help WhatsApp count the number of times a message has been forwarded (through metadata) in the platform.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of 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 personal conversation,” WhatsApp cited.
The initiative will definitely prevent users from forwarding the same message to multiple users (precisely 5) right away; however, they can still send the message to all the users by simply copying the text and pasting on the receivers’ textbox (that’s a lot of work though if one has more than 100 contacts on their WhatsApp account).
That said, WhatsApp came under the radar last month for the platform being used to spread misleading information. Renowned tabloids CNN and other organizations (via The Verge) claimed that the app had been used to share false information related to coronavirus cure and hoaxes about military activities.
To recall, WhatsApp last month launched a chatbot in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide accurate health information, general tips, and resources about the respiratory disease. While the COVID-19 infodemic is having a huge impact on users worldwide, companies’ drastic steps to stem the flow of misinformation is a welcome step. But it would be wise to follow authentic sources (WHO, UNDP) rather than gorging on the fake cures and medical information that’s infecting the internet.