How Whatsapp is changing its forwarding function

Facebook-owned messaging service introducing stricter limits to fight ‘infodemic’ of misleading medical advice

(Image credit: Carl Court/Getty Images)

WhatsApp is striking back against fake news by imposing a new limit on how many times a viral message can be forwarded on the platform.

The move is aimed at tackling the growing number of messages on the Facebook-owned app that offer erroneous medical advice about the Covid-19 coronavirus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of an “infodemic” of misinformation relating to bogus cures for the virus, which has killed more than 83,000 people worldwide, reports The Telegraph.

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Under the new WhatsApp limits, if a user receives a message that has been forwarded more than five times, they will only be able to send it on to a single chat at a time.

“That is one fifth the previous limit of five chats, imposed in 2019,” says The Guardian.

In a blog post published on Tuesday, WhatsApp said the service has “taken several steps over the years to help keep conversations intimate”.

“Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not,” the post adds, pointing to the use of the platform to share funny memes and to organise public support for various causes.

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

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The Guardian says that by inserting “friction” into the process of sharing viral misinformation, the messaging service “hopes to slow some of the most viral messages on its platform, such as the widely spread falsehood that coronavirus is related to 5G” - a claim that has led to the vandalisation of more than 20 UK phone masts in less than a week.

The London Evening Standard adds that WhatsApp is “also testing ways to include more information about these viral messages”.

“One idea is that a little magnifying glass icon will be display next to frequently forwarded messages which will give users the option to see news stories and information resources relating to that particular message,” the newspaper says.

“This feature is currently in testing though, so won’t be available on your app just yet.”

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