After reports of a rise in messages spreading falsehoods about the coronavirus, WhatsApp is to impose a new forwarding limit.
With many WhatsApp users receiving forwarded message containing misinformation about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the messaging platform is set to introduce new measures.
On its blog, the Facebook-owned company said it has 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,” it added. Messages can now only be forwarded to one group at a time.
This is not the first time WhatsApp has limited forwarding on the platform. In January 2019, it launched a forwarding limit to a maximum of five groups to “constrain virality”. This, it said, led to a 25pc decrease in message forwarding globally. Before that, it was possible to forward a message to 250 groups at a time.
Last month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar encouraged people to stop sharing unverified information in WhatsApp groups. “These messages are scaring and confusing people and causing real damage,” he tweeted.
I am urging everyone to please stop sharing unverified info on What's app groups. These messages are scaring and confusing people and causing real damage. Please get your info from official, trusted sources. Follow @HSELive @hpscireland @WHO @merrionstreet @dfatravelwise
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) March 16, 2020
‘Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not’
Last month, WhatsApp also launched a Coronavirus Information Hub in partnership with the World Health Organization, Unicef and the UN Development Programme.
It includes general tips and resources for users with the aim of reducing the spread of rumours and linking directly to reliable health information. So far, WhatsApp said that hundreds of millions of people have received messages who were asking for information and advice.
In its most recent blog, WhatsApp said it doesn’t believe that all message forwarding is bad on the platform.
“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,” it said.
“In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organise public moments of support for front-line health workers.”
The UK government recently set up a taskforce to crack down on false coronavirus messages being spread on WhatsApp and other platforms. These included false hospital advice on how to kill the virus and scams pretending to be from the government offering tax refunds because of coronavirus disruption.