We all know that tech giants, including Facebook and WhatsApp, have put a system to curb the spread of misinformation on their platforms during the Coronavirus pandemic. While it is very difficult to stop it, it can surely be slowed down. With the same aim in mind, WhatsApp is rolling out a new limit on forwarding ‘frequently forwarded’ messages. Once rolled out, users can only forward such messages to one chat at a time.
‘This limit kicks in once a message has been previously forwarded five times or more. This is the latest limit that WhatsApp has set, making us one of the few products that have taken steps to constrain virality and place limits on how people can send messages,’ WhatsApp said in a statement. If a message has been labelled with a grey-coloured double arrow mark, it has been forwarded more than five times, indicating it did not originate from a close contact.
How will this slow down the spread of misinformation? Once you can only send a ‘frequently forwarded’ message to one chat at a time, it will require more time and hard work to send the same message to several chats. When the task of forwarding a message becomes tedious, users will send the same message to only those who are important to them.
Ultimately, a message that could have been forwarded to n-number of chats in a specific time, will now only be sent to a few people. In this way, a message with misinformation would not be able to travel faster on the platform, and its spread will be slowed down.
Further, there are reports which claim that WhatsApp is working on a feature that will help users find out more information about the content in the ‘frequently forwarded’ messages. As per a beta version, the app will display a magnifying glass icon next to these ‘frequently forwarded’ messages, ‘giving users the option to send that message to a web search where they can find news results or other sources of information’.
This will not only help reduce the spread of rumours because people will be able to check the veracity of the information of a message, but also develop a habit of scrutinising a message or a piece of information before responsibly sharing it with friends and family. WhatsApp introduced a limit on forwarding messages last year, and it has seen a 25 per cent decrease in message forwards globally.
WhatsApp, however, still maintains that forwarding messages is a good practice, especially in times like these when many users are in need of helpful information. Apart from that, people share funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers that they find are meaningful. In recent weeks, people have also used the app to raise donations and organise public moments of support for frontline health workers.
‘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.
WhatsApp says that it is working directly with NGOs and governments, including the World Health Organization and over 20 national health ministries, to help connect people with accurate information. These trusted authorities have sent hundreds of millions of messages directly to people requesting information and advice. (Suggested Read: WhatsApp Information Hub)