WhatsApp is trying to stem the rapid spread of coronavirus misinformation by placing new limits on the number of times a forwarded message can be shared simultaneously.
A message received by a person on the Facebook (FB)-owned platform that has already been forwarded five times can now only be passed on to one chat at a time.
The new limits are WhatsApp’s strictest yet.
The chat app has been gradually tightening the restrictions on its forwarding function, where a user can easily choose multiple groups or people to receive the message. Two years ago, a user could pass on a forwarded message to 250 groups at once, with each group capable of hosting hundreds of users.
By last year, the company had reduced that limit to five groups at a time. Now it’s one, although a user could theoretically still forward the same message to individuals or groups one by one.
“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,” WhatsApp said in a blog post. “We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for a personal conversation.”
WhatsApp has long been plagued by misinformation, but the ease with which its group chats and forwarding capabilities can be used to spread such content has been magnified by the coronavirus pandemic.
Unlike Facebook or Instagram, WhatsApp fully encrypts its messages, meaning the company has no idea what’s being said or shared. And unlike Facebook, it does not have the capability to attach a warning and explanation to posts deemed false by fact-checkers.