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WhatsApp says sharing limits help stop the spread of fake news

Published Apr 27th, 2020 4:07PM EDT
WhatsApp: Forward messages
Image: Martin Meissner/AP/Shutterstock

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  • WhatsApp recently introduced a new limit for forwarding viral messages on its platform.
  • In the weeks since the limit was introduced, WhatsApp has seen “a 70% reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages.”
  • WhatsApp is trying to stop the spread of misinformation during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

One of the countless unforeseen consequences of social media’s ubiquity is the speed at which stories can spread, regardless of whether or not they have any basis in reality. No platform is immune to this issue, including WhatsApp, which last year introduced a new “double arrow” label for messages that had been forwarded in the app many times before. The label warned users that the message did not originate from one of their close contacts.

Attempting to keep users from unknowingly spreading misinformation has and always will be a challenge for platforms like WhatsApp and its parent company, Facebook, but as we all attempt to navigate this viral pandemic, ensuring that people aren’t led astray by questionable viral articles is more important than ever. And so, WhatsApp implemented a new limit so that these viral messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time.

Previously, WhatsApp had decreased the forward limit for these messages to five chats at once, which it said led to a “25% decrease in total message forwards globally.” This wasn’t enough for the novel coronavirus pandemic, though, which swayed the company to push the limit even further. The early returns have been noteworthy.

“We recently introduced a limit to sharing ‘highly forwarded messages’ to just one chat. Since putting into place this new limit, globally there has been a 70% reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages sent on WhatsApp,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement.

As TechCrunch notes, WhatsApp was spurred into action by India, its biggest market, when the government asked WhatsApp and other social media companies to work on controlling the spread of hoaxes and misinformation on their platforms. To that point, some users in India have been sharing reports of potential treatments for COVID-19 in recent weeks, none of which are supported by science. Limiting the ability of users to share “fake news” is a step in the right direction, even if it won’t be enough to stop misinformation from making the rounds altogether.

“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,” WhatsApp explained in a blog post earlier this month. “In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organize 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.”

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.