With COVID-19 misinformation rapidly spreading through social media and messaging apps, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB)-owned WhatsApp is limiting the ability for users to forward chats.
In a blog post, WhatsApp said its expanding global measures it already had in place so that only one message can be forwarded to one chat at a time. WhatsApp said it has seen a "significant" increase in the amount of forwarding on its messaging platform and that it could 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," WhatApp said in the post.
In addition to limiting forwards, WhatsApp said its working with non-government agencies, governments, the World Health Organization and more than 20 national health ministries to enable people to connect with information that is accurate and helpful amid the COVID-19 pandemic. WhatsApp said these groups have sent hundreds of millions of messages directly to WhatsApp users seeking information and advice.
WhatsApp, with 2 billion users, is a popular messaging app in which messages and calls are encrypted on both sides. That enables people to have secure and private conversations. It has also become a hotbed of misinformation. Last year WhatsApp began labeling messages that had been forwarded several times so users would know they didn't originate with someone close to them. Back in 2018, WhatsApp faced accusations that it played a role in spreading misinformation in India during an outbreak of violence. That prompted the messaging app to limit the forwards to five chats from 20.
Misinformation spreading on WhatsApp and other social media platforms resulted in the recent vandalism of several cell towers in the U.K. due to a conspiracy theory that 5G technology is linked to the pandemic. Tech giant Facebook, and WhatsApp in particular, are trying to limit situations like that in the future.