(SKY NEWS) – WhatsApp is introducing a new limit on message forwarding to tackle the spread of misinformation, its parent company Facebook has announced.
The limitations follow a “significant increase” in forwarding during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a company statement.
False claims spreading during the outbreak have included a conspiracy theory linking it to the deployment of 5G masts, prompting suspected arson attacks against telecommunications infrastructure in the UK.
Last year the company was forced to introduce limitations on message forwarding after rumours spread on the platform in India led to several brutal murders and lynchings.
As messages on WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted, it isn’t possible for Facebook to analyse their content to see if they reference coronavirus or any other known false stories.
As a result of this, the changes are designed to tackle the most viral messages based solely on how often those messages have been forwarded in the past.
Under the new changes, after a single message has been forwarded more than five times users will only be able to forward it on to a single chat at a time instead of five.
Users will still be able to forward the message as many times as they like, but WhatsApp will make them click the forward button to do so each time and not allow them to select multiple chats to forward the message to.
Facebook said that a similar previous change to limits on forwarded messages led to a 25% drop globally in message forwarding.
“Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not,” the company stated, announcing the new limitations.
“We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful.
“In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organize public moments of support for frontline health workers,” the company added.
“However, 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.
“We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation,” the company added.