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WhatsApp’s Biggest Move Yet in The War Against Fake News: Message Forwards Limited to One

Representative Image.

Representative Image.

This limit kicks in once a message has been previously forwarded five times or more, the company said in a statement.

Vishal Mathur
  • Last Updated: April 9, 2020, 3:13 PM IST
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WhatsApp has made the biggest change yet in the battle against fake news. The specific motivation this time is the misinformation about the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. WhatsApp says it is now limiting the ability to forward a message to just one chat at a time. This is a move that is being implemented worldwide and you should see this change in behavior on your WhatsApp instant messenger today—it may not be immediate, but will reflect sometime in the next few hours. This is the second time WhatsApp has limited the ability to forward messages on the platform. Last year, WhatsApp had limited users from forwarding messaging to just five chats at a time. But do note, this change refers to highly forwarded messages, which means this has reached you after passing through a chain of at least five users.

“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 a 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,” says WhatsApp in an official statement. That experiment had worked well. The Facebook-owned messaging platform suggests that there was a 25% decrease in message forwards globally, because of the reduced virality limits.

This change refers to highly forwarded messages, which means this has reached you after passing through a chain of at least five users

There are two sides of the coin

“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,” says the company. However, they have also noticed seen a significant increase in the amount of forwarding which users have reported back as overwhelming and potentially contributing 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,” they say.

WhatsApp is not fighting a lonely battle

Last month, the Delhi Government had announced new tougher measures to tackle the spread of fake news in the region, particularly after the riots in Delhi which got an over-enthusiastic communal angle on instant messages and WhatsApp forwards, Facebook posts and Twitter conversations.

If you are now caught forwarding fake news or sharing messages or posts that could incite tensions, violence or are remotely provocative, incendiary or instigative, you could end up in jail for up to 3 years. The Committee on Peace & Harmony of the Delhi Legislative Assembly has also launched a WhatsApp service as well as an email helpline where citizens can report any inflammatory messages that they may have received on WhatsApp, any instant messaging platform or any social media site.

You should see this change in behavior on your WhatsApp instant messenger today—it may not be immediate, but will reflect sometime in the next few hours

Coronavirus cures and remedies became popular on WhatsApp

This crackdown by WhatsApp should come as no surprise. Social media platforms and instant messaging apps had become the medium of choice for those spreading incorrect facts about absolutely unverified treatments for Coronavirus, possible remedies and preventive measures. None of them work, except the preventive measures suggested by doctors and authorities around the world. In fact, these can be extremely dangerous, and the consensus is to stay away from such information—and most definitely not spread this misinformation among the WhatsApp Groups you may be a part of.

Last year was not easy either

The fake news on WhatsApp has been in prominence for about a couple of years now, and it was only to be expected that the spread of misinformation, and worse still communally charged posts, would gain prominence on messaging platforms ahead of the Lok Sabha elections last year. It was around this time that WhatsApp had introduced the first set of limits on message forwards, as well as the clear labelling to differentiate a forward from a personal message.

Have You Also Read?

Fighting Fake News on COVID-19: What India’s Social Media Companies are Doing

Delhi Government’s War Against Fake News on WhatsApp: You Can go to Jail For 3 Years


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