There is a huge problem being faced going hand in hand with the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) which is the spread of fake news! This form of fake news has caused panic everywhere which is why companies like Google, Facebook, and now even WhatsApp have decided to do something about it.
The new move by WhatsApp
The company has decided to impose a new strict limit on message forwarding right as the Facebook-owned chatt app wants to slow the dissemination of fake news. If their users receive a frequently forwarded message, a message that has been forwarded over five times, the user will not be able to send it on to a next single chat at a time. This is one fifth of the previous limit set of five chats which was imposed back in 2019.
Although this change may not completely stop the widespread forwarding since ultimately a single message can then be passed on however many different times a user is happy to hit the next forward button.
The help this feature do is to insert friction in the process which aims to aid the company by slowing down most of the viral messages on their platform just like the viral false message about the COVID-19 stating that the coronavirus is related to 5G. The dangers of these claims have taken fruit and have resulted to the vandalism of over 20 phone masts in the previous week.
WhatsApp's position on this decision
According to a Whatsapp spokesperson's statement in a blogpost on Tuesday morning, "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." The spokesperson believed that they want to slow the spread of these messages and keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.
Due to the encryption being made used of in WhatsApp, the company is not able to see the contents of messages that are being sent within this platform. This prevents it from finally deploying the very same moderation strategies as Facebook or Twitter which can flag down harmful content.
The company has previously worked to introduce friction into messaging more generally as a firewall for users with harmful messages and provide users with helpful information that could help them known whether or not a message is in fact trustworthy especially in this time of coronavirus.
The 2018 achievements of WhatsApp
Back until 2018, users have been able to freely forward messages to 250 groups all at once which was then reduced to 20 that same year. Later on it had been reduced to five in 2019 and today, it has finally been reduced to one.
WhatsApp has recently stated that those measures will be able to reduce message forwarding up to 25% globally. Those widely forwarded messages can be especially dangerous on WhatsApp and they often times come from a friend or even a family member spreading wide enough that it is finally disconnected from the initial contect.