WhatsApp has rolled out a big change to its messaging service in an attempt to stem the flood of misinformation that is spreading across the globe about the COVID-19 pandemic. From today, you’ll only be able to forward messages on to a single conversation at a time. Until now, WhatsApp had set the limit to five contacts or group messages.
The text messages that will be hardest hit by this lockdown will be those considered “highly forwarded”. That means they’ve been identified as being sent through a chain of five or more people. This is usually indicative of a viral message – designed to be shared to multiple friends and family. A number of conspiracy theories, rumours and hoaxes about the novel coronavirus, including one that 5G masts have impacted the spread of the virus that led people to set equipment on fire across the UK, have sprung up during the outbreak.
Explaining the reasons behind the radical change to the chat app – which is the most popular on Earth with more than 2 billion users, WhatsApp stated: “Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not. We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful. In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organise public moments of support for frontline health workers.
“However, 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 down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.
“We believe that now more than ever people need to be able to connect privately. Our teams are hard at work to keep WhatsApp running reliably during this unprecedented global crisis. We’ll continue to listen to your feedback and improve ways for people to share with each other on WhatsApp.”
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Of course, this measure can’t stop you from sending the same messages over and over again to all of your contacts, but it will make the task far more laborious.
That should discourage those from sending on a chain-mail style message about the coronavirus to the contacts on their phone, WhatsApp hopes. Previous limits introduced by WhatsApp dropped the spread of disinformation on the Facebook-owned platform by 25 percent.
Last year, WhatsApp introduced users to the concept of messages that have been forwarded many times. These messages are now labelled with double arrows which indicate that they did not originate from a close contact.