WhatsApp limits message forwarding to prevent spread of misinformation

WhatsApp is a cross-platform messaging and Voice over IP service owned by Facebook.

Instant messaging giant WhatsApp announced that it is limiting users to forwarding a message only five times as part of an effort to curb the spread of false information.

Victoria Grand, vice president for policy and communications at WhatsApp, said at an event in Jakarta, Indonesia: ”We’re imposing a limit of five messages all over the world as of today.”

The move comes after WhatsApp implemented the five-recipient limit in India six months ago. False information about child kidnappers in India went viral on WhatsApp last year, prompting mobs to kill nearly twenty innocent people.

Previously, WhatsApp users in all countries but India (where the 5-recipient limit was tested) could forward a message up to 20 times.

“The forward limit significantly reduced forwarded messages around the world,” the company said in a statement.

“[This] will help keep WhatsApp focused on private messaging with close contacts. We’ll continue to listen to user feedback about their experience, and over time, look for new ways of addressing viral content.”

However, as pointed out by The Verge, messages can still be forwarded to groups (which can have up to 256 members). “That means a forwarded message could be put in front of nearly 1,300 people, despite the five time limit.”

Social media services under scrutiny

The new limit comes as social media and instant messaging services are under close watch for being used as tools to spread alarming amounts of misinformation, rumors and false news.

Earlier this month, Facebook removed hundreds of pages, groups and accounts that it says were part of two big disinformation operations.

“We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people. We’re taking down these Pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post. In these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy, said in a blog post.