Facebook-owned chat application, WhatsApp, has announced plans to impose a stricter limit on the forwarding of messages through chat platform to one-fifth of its previous limit. The company seeks to use this measure to slow down the circulation of fake news relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The change which does not completely prevent widespread forwarding of viral messages, however, huddles the process, making it a chore for a user to push a frequently forwarded message to multiple users at a time.
In a statement on Tuesday, the 7th of April, 2020, WhatsApp spokesperson said, “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.”
In a further statement by the company reads, “We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for a personal conversation.”
In 2019 a limit of five chats was imposed on the platform, where users could only forward messages to five chats at a time. But under the new curbs, a user who receives a frequently forwarded message will only be able to forward it to a single chat at a time.
As of 2018, users had been able to forward a message to 250 groups at once. It was subsequently reduced to 20 that same year, 5 in 2019 and one now. WhatsApp says those measures reduced message forwarding by 25% globally.
According to news report The Guardian, the company hopes to slow down some of the most viral messages on its platform, such as the widely spread falsehood that coronavirus is related to 5G. This misinformation has already led to the vandalisation of more than 20 phone masts.
Ordinarily, WhatsApp would have been able to take down harmful content by employing the same strategies as Facebook or Twitter which has a mechanism that flags and pulls down harmful contents. But the encryption WhatsApp uses makes it impossible for it to see the content of messages sent on its platform. This new process may not ultimately stop the spread of viral news, but it will surely put a huge strain on its spread.