Whatsapp set to limit message forwarding in fight against fake coronavirus news

The platform homes restricting forwarded messages will help stop the spread of fake news

Whatsapp is planning to impose strict limits on message forwarding, the Facebook-owned company has announced.

It comes amid an explosion of false and misleading information that is being shared on the messaging platform in the wake of coronavirus.

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In some cases, messages claiming to have details of Covid-19 cures and DIY protective equipment with no evidence have been forwarded tens of thousands of times on the app.

Whatsapp is restricting how easily messages can be forwarded. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Frequently forwarded messages

Soon, frequently forwarded messages (FFMs)- ones that have been forwarded more than five times - will be more difficult for Whatsapp users to send on to other chats.

Currently, FFMs can be shared with five chats simultaneously. Whatsapp said the new limit will mean users can only forward such messages to one chat at a time.

‘Overwhelming’

In a blog post, a company spokesperson wrote: “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.”

“We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation,” they added.

Friction

The new change will not restrict messages that contain fake news, but developers hope it will create “friction” - making it difficult and time consuming for people to spread misleading information as far as they currently can.

Until 2018, users on Whatsapp were able to forward a single message to 250 other chats simultaneously - leading to a huge build up in fake news on the app.

That year, the forwarding limit was set at 20 chats; in 2019, it was lowered to just five.

The company claims that gradually restricting the forwarding limit has cut message forwarding by 25 per cent internationally.

Difficulties with encryption

The end-to-end encryption used by Whatsapp secures its users’ privacy, but it makes it difficult for developers to police the spread of fake news on their platforms.

While Facebook and Twitter are able to take down content that is flagged to them by users, Whatsapp’s developers cannot view what their users are sending.

They hope that the friction created by limiting frequently forwarded content can help curtail misleading information being shared.

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