Facebook-owned chat app, WhatsApp, said on Tuesday that it was set to impose a strict new limit on message forwarding as it seeks to slow the pace with which fake news spread on its platform during the coronavirus pandemic.
The company said in a statement that this action was imperative at the moment in the bid to disrupt frequently forwarded false COVID-19 claims.
COVID-19 is a deadly respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. It has infected over a million people globally and caused over 60,000 deaths.
“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,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a blogpost.
“We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”
At present, users could share frequently forwarded messages to five contacts at a time, a limit that was in itself imposed in 2019 to “help keep WhatsApp focused on private messaging.”
Under the new regulation, however, if a user receives a message, they will only be able to send it on to a single chat at a time.
The media space has been awash with a widely spread falsehood that coronavirus is related to 5G. This has fuelled wide suspicion worldwide, and, for instance, triggered the vandalisation of more than 20 phone masts in England.
WhatsApp, especially for its sheer popularity globally, has been tipped as a tool used to amplify these claims. Also, due to the end-to-end encryption WhatsApp uses, the company cannot see the contents of messages sent on its platform.
Therefore, this prevents the company from employing the same moderation strategies used by Twitter and Facebook, where contents flagged harmful are taken down.
WhatsApp said it is aware of these constraints, and it will work more to keep the app “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.”