In a bid to take on the continuing issue of misinformation, spam and forwarded message-led acts of violence, WhatsApp is rolling out a new tool that will mark specific messages if they have been forwarded too many times. Called 'Frequently Forwarded', the new tag will label messages that have been forwarded more than five times to unique users, and be identified with a double arrow icon that singles out such messages.
Users forwarding such messages will also be alerted with a prompt that says, 'This message will be marked as forwarded many times'. Given the potential issues arising out of forwarded messages, WhatsApp likely hopes that including such an alert on messages will help users become more aware of the information that such forwarded texts carry, and act accordingly.
Over the past one week, forwarded messages regarding a non-existent child abduction gang in certain districts of Madhya Pradesh led to mob thrashings purely based on a communal misinformation and propaganda campaign. Such an incident had also occurred last year, leading to as many as 30 individual cases of mob lynching. Given the potential threats of such cases, it is important for messaging platforms to treat such issues with caution.
WhatsApp, on its part, has been undertaking multiple measures to identify senders of spam messages, or those who particularly use WhatsApp as a forwarding medium, rather than a personal messaging service. It now remains to be seen how the latest tool helps WhatsApp in dealing with the repeated issue of propaganda on its platform, which it has faced multiple times of late.