After implementing new restrictions on how many times messages can be re-shared by users earlier this month, WhatsApp says that it’s seen a major reduction in the distribution of forwarded content, significantly reducing the spread of misinformation within the app.
As explained by WhatsApp (via Business Standard):
“WhatsApp is committed to doing our part in tackling viral messages. Since putting into place the new limit, globally, there has been a 70% reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages sent on WhatsApp. This change is helping keep WhatsApp a place for personal and private conversations.”
WhatsApp initially limited message sharing last January, restricting forwarding to five times per message, before it implemented even more stringent measures on the same earlier this month, in response to concerns that COVID-19 misinformation campaigns were now being targeted to WhatsApp users specifically.
The new limits relate to ‘highly forwarded’ messages – as explained by WhatsApp:
“Last year we introduced users to the concept of messages that have been forwarded many times. These messages are labeled with double arrows to indicate they did not originate from a close contact. In effect, these messages are less personal compared to typical messages sent on WhatsApp. We are now introducing a limit so that these messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time.”
WhatsApp has huge reach, especially in developing regions, and its encryption systems make it more difficult to moderate what content is being shared, and with whom – and given the importance of timely, relevant messaging around COVID-19, the messaging app has sought to take these additional measures to address such. Which, as detailed by WhatsApp, are now having an impact.
Various reports have singled out WhatsApp as a key source of coronavirus misinformation. Among the more recent WhatsApp misinformation campaigns, authorities have debunked a WhatsApp message which claims that “new communication regulations” will enable governments to record people’s phone calls, while another campaign shared a voice message which claimed that COVID-19 deaths are set to spike significantly, and many of the victims will be children.
Again, right now, the need to accurate information around how to respond the virus is crucial, so it’s good to see WhatsApp, and other platforms, working to limit the spread of such campaigns.