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WhatsApp Says Viral Message Forwarding Has Reduced 70% Since Implementation of New Restrictions

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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.

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Expert shares advice for keeping children safe online

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The arrival of the mobile internet on the island in 2018 has revolutionized the way people express discontent and organize themselves in a one-party state known for its dislike of dissent

The arrival of the mobile internet on the island in 2018 has revolutionized the way people express discontent and organize themselves in a one-party state known for its dislike of dissent – Copyright AFP Yasuyoshi CHIBA

Keeping all electronic devices in one room is a measure that can be taken in order to protect your child online. Children have more access to screen time than ever before, in particular, access to the Internet. Hence, Internet safety has become an increasingly worrying problem amongst parents.

Internet expert Allison Troutner from VPNOverview.com tells Digital Journal about the best ways to keep your child safe online.

Consider a family ‘tech agreement’

Troutner  advises: “One way to set ground rules with your child is to create a Family Tech Agreement. A family tech agreement answers as many questions as possible about internet and device use so boundaries are clear to all family members. It’s a good way for the whole family to talk about safe and responsible online behaviours.”

To create a family agreement, discuss topics like:

•           What apps, games, or sites does the family use most?

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•           What rules do we want to include in our agreement?

•           How long should we spend on our devices?

•           What information is safe to share (or not)?

•           What do we do if we see something inappropriate?

•           What email address do we use to sign up for accounts?

•           Do we know how to use in-app safety features like blocking and reporting?

•           Who can we talk to if we feel uncomfortable with something online?

•           Who is safe to talk to?

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•           What happens when someone breaks the agreement?

•           When might parents be forced to break the agreement for safety?

Troutner advises: “This is a starting point: your family may discuss more topics on Internet safety for kids depending on the ages of your child or teens and what devices you use.”

Report any harmful content that you see

Troutner  recommends: “Flag or report all harmful content or contact you or your child experiences using social media apps using in-app reporting features. For cybercrimes, cyberbullying, or harmful content, use in-app features like Twitter’s safe mode to report it. Most social media companies have their own safety and privacy policies and will investigate and block content or users. Apps geared towards kids, like Facebook Messenger Kids, have clear guidelines and safety features so that users can block content or contacts and have a safer experience in the app.”

Balance safety with independence

Troutner cautions: “Technical controls can be a useful way to protect your children online but they can’t solve all your problems. Children need a certain amount of freedom and privacy to develop healthily. They need their own free space to learn by trial and error what works and what doesn’t. So keep balancing, it’s part of it. Having open and honest conversations with your children can be the best way to balance this safety.”

Keep the computer in a common space

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Troutner states: “If possible, keep computers and devices in a common space so you can keep an eye on activity. It prevents children from doing things that might be risky. Also, if harmful or inappropriate content appears through messages, you can address it with your child straight away.”

Password-protect all accounts and devices

According to Troutner: “From phones to computers to apps, put a password on it. That way, no one without the password can access you or your child’s device. Keep track of passwords by using a password manager.”

Update your operating systems regularly

As a protective measure, Troutner advises: “All of your devices from mobile phones or tablets to computers and smartwatches receive important updates in response to security issues on a regular basis. Be sure to install them regularly so you have the most up-to-date security fixes and remain safe online. Our recommendation is to set updates to install automatically so your device is less vulnerable to known attacks. Usually, you can find this feature in Settings, then select Automatic Updates, but it varies between devices.”

Install security or antivirus software programs and a VPN on your computer

Troutner puts forward: “Additionally, cybersecurity or antivirus software programs prevent spyware or viruses that may harm your computer if your child visits a malicious site. Using these programs, parents can also set up regular virus checks and deep system scans to make sure there is no harmful activity happening under your nose.”

He adds: “A VPN hides users’ internet activity from snoops and spoofs your location. This protects your kids by making sure hackers or predators can’t detect their actual location. You can install a VPN on your router so that the location is spoofed on all connected devices.”

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Set parental controls

Troutner  states: “It may seem obvious, but parental controls are crucial to your child’s safety online. Parent controls are built-in features included on devices and apps. With these features, parents customise their child’s online experience. What parental controls are available on each device or app varies, but in general, they limit screen time, restrict content, and enhance user privacy.”

Features of parental controls include:

•           Limit screen time.

•           Turn off in-app purchasing.

•           Prevent inappropriate or mature content.

•           Limit website access.

•           Play, message, or send/receive content with approved contacts only.

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•           Monitor device location through GPS.

Troutner  concludes, emphasising: “Take time to look at what parental controls are available on your child’s commonly used apps. Then, set them to reflect the type of experience you think is best for your child or teen’s online safety.”

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