SAN FRANCISCO: WhatsApp on Tuesday placed new limits on message forwarding as part of an effort to curb the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.
The new policy limits users to forwarding certain messages to one “chat” at a time, aiming to limit the rapid propagation of content that is provocative but likely to be false.
The Facebook-owned messaging platform said it took the action to enable people to concentrate on personal and private communications during the health crisis.
In recent weeks, “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,” WhatsApp said in a blog post.
“We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.” Last year, WhatsApp set limits on forwarded messages to five chats at a time, “to constrain virality”, responding to vents in India where the rapid proliferation of unverified information led to mob violence.
The new policy applies to messages forwarded “many times” and marked with a double-arrow, indicating that it did not originate from a close contact, according to WhatsApp.
“In effect, these messages are less personal compared to typical messages sent on WhatsApp,” the blog said.
“We are now introducing a limit so that these messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time.” Damian Collins, a British member of parliament and co-founder of the Infotagion fact-check blog, called the move “a timely intervention”, noting that WhatsApp was being used to spread recent hoaxes that 5G wireless networks were spreading the virus.
“The online conspiracy theories about #5G exposed last week, and their real-life consequences, are a clear call to fight disinformation about #COVID19,” Collins tweeted.
“A lot of the false content sent to us at @infotagion came from @WhatsApp.” - Scrambling to stop hoaxes
WhatsApp along with its parent Facebook have been scrambling to curb an explosion of rumours and hoaxes about the coronavirus and at the same time seeking to promote verified content.
With more than a billion users worldwide, WhatsApp has become a key source of information and communication during the pandemic.
Facebook said last month it has nearly doubled server capacity to power WhatsApp as people in isolation place more voice and video calls using the popular messaging service.
Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2020