WhatsApp Reduces Forward Message Limit to 1 Chat at a Time to Curb Fake News During COVID-19 Outbreak

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HIGHLIGHTS
  • WhatsApp forward message limit was earlier set at five messages
  • The earlier change led to a 25 percent decrease in message forwards
  • WhatsApp recently provided option to verify forwarded messages online

With a view to limit the circulation of fake news and misinformation through its platform, WhatsApp on Tuesday narrowed down the limit of frequently forwarded messages to one chat at a time. This comes as an update to the existing limit that was allowing users to forward a message for up to five times, but as noted above, only applies to frequently forwarded messages that have been previously forwarded five times or more. The new move by the Facebook-owned company is aimed to help slow the spread of misinformation during the coronavirus outbreak that’s impacting people worldwide. WhatsApp was recently also spotted offering a feature to let users verify forwarded messages online.

Since many people are staying at home due to the coronavirus spread and lockdowns imposed in several countries including India, WhatsApp forwards have increased to new levels. The company also noted in a blog post that it had seen a significant increase in the amount of forwarding that are counted as “overwhelming” by users and “can contribute to the spread of misinformation”. Thus, it makes sense for WhatsApp to limit forwards to one chat at a time.

The new update is meant to restrict users from a frequently forwarded message to more than one user at once. However, this doesn’t mean that users won’t be able to forward a frequently forwarded message to multiple users at all. They can still copy a message and paste in the textbox of various chats.

That being said, the change is a welcome step as it would certainly put some impact on the circulation of fake news, which is quite common on the instant messaging platform thanks to its expanded user base of more than two billion users globally — with over 400 million users in India alone.

To recall, WhatsApp had added a “Frequently Forwarded” message label in August last year to help users easily identify messages that didn’t originate from a close contact. The latest update is an extension to the existing limit of five forwards at once that WhatsApp initially brought to India in August 2018 and then expanded to global markets in January last year. That previous change is claimed to have resulted in a 25 percent decrease in message forwards globally at the time.

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