STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

WhatsApp tightens limits on message forwarding to counter coronavirus misinformation

WhatsApp is trying to stem the rapid spread of coronavirus misinformation by placing new limits on the number of times a forwarded message can be shared simu...

Posted: Apr 8, 2020 8:17 AM

WhatsApp is trying to stem the rapid spread of coronavirus misinformation by placing new limits on the number of times a forwarded message can be shared simultaneously.

A message received by a person on the Facebook-owned platform that has already been forwarded five times can now only be passed on to one chat at a time.

The new limits are WhatsApp's strictest yet.

The chat app has been gradually tightening the restrictions on its forwarding function, where a user can easily choose multiple groups or people to receive the message. Two years ago, a user could pass on a forwarded message to 250 groups at once, with each group capable of hosting hundreds of users.

By last year, the company had reduced that limit to five groups at a time. Now it's one, although a user could theoretically still forward the same message to individuals or groups one by one.

"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," WhatsApp said in a blog post. "We believe it's important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation."

WhatsApp has long been plagued by misinformation, but the ease with which its group chats and forwarding capabilities can be used to spread such content has been magnified by the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike Facebook or Instagram, WhatsApp fully encrypts its messages, meaning the company has no idea what's being said or shared. And unlike Facebook, it does not have the capability to attach a warning and explanation to posts deemed false by fact checkers.

WhatsApp, like other text messaging platforms, has been used in recent months to spread messages that often contain a mixture of claims about the virus, some accurate and some that have been debunked by medical experts. The problem is now so acute that world leaders are urging people to stop sharing unverified information using the app.

The five-time fowarding limit was introduced after viral hoax messages in India contributed to more than a dozen lynchings in 2018. WhatsApp says forwarding was reduced by 25% as a result.

Experts welcomed the tighter limit announced on Tuesday but said it still doesn't go far enough.

London School of Economics professors Shakuntala Banaji and Ram Bhat, who have studied the spread of misinformation via WhatsApp in India, said stricter forwarding limits should have already been in place.

Banaji and Bhat told CNN Business that without other measures, like being able to report, ban and prosecute users who pass on hateful misinformation, "this new measure for much forwarded content will perforce prove to be ineffective."

"Our work in India suggested the urgent need for forward limits as one of a bundle of measures in order to curb the rapid spread of hate speech and misinformation," they added.

A study conducted last year by the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil found that while limiting forwarding to five groups could delay the spread of misinformation "depending on the virality of the content, those limits are not effective in preventing a message to reach the entire network quickly."

WhatsApp has taken other steps in the light of the coronavirus pandemic to fight misinformation, such as donating money to fact checking organizations, some of which run accounts people can send messages to. They've also teamed up with international and national health organizations to create chat bots that can answer people's coronavirus questions.

The platform is also working on a new feature that would allow users to take a message they've received and quickly search the web to check its content. In screenshots shared with TechCrunch last month, a magnifying glass appears next to a message, which would take the user to a related Google search.

A WhatsApp spokesperson told CNN Business that feature is still being tested.

Huntsville
Few Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 71°
Florence
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 95° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 73°
Fayetteville
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 72°
Decatur
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 70°
Scottsboro
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 72°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 49892

Reported Deaths: 1077
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6219167
Mobile4625138
Montgomery4397111
Tuscaloosa258652
Madison19839
Marshall190411
Shelby155724
Lee153537
Morgan12415
Baldwin117011
Walker105631
Elmore100721
Dallas9789
Franklin92816
Etowah91914
DeKalb8647
Russell6650
Chambers66427
Autauga66214
Butler64529
Tallapoosa62569
Unassigned61627
Limestone5963
Houston5616
Lauderdale5556
Cullman5546
St. Clair4842
Colbert4816
Lowndes48022
Escambia4688
Pike4675
Calhoun4565
Coffee4164
Covington40312
Jackson4022
Barbour3772
Bullock37610
Dale3721
Talladega3677
Hale34323
Marengo34211
Clarke3036
Wilcox2998
Chilton2952
Winston2925
Sumter28713
Blount2811
Marion26714
Pickens2626
Monroe2553
Randolph2489
Conecuh2278
Perry2242
Bibb2151
Macon2129
Choctaw20912
Greene1929
Henry1463
Washington1367
Crenshaw1263
Lawrence1210
Cherokee1157
Geneva950
Lamar871
Clay822
Fayette811
Coosa631
Cleburne421
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 59546

Reported Deaths: 723
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby13113219
Davidson12935142
Rutherford342839
Hamilton319637
Sumner187456
Williamson167016
Knox15069
Trousdale15065
Out of TN139710
Wilson113017
Putnam10027
Unassigned9362
Bradley9254
Robertson90113
Sevier8843
Montgomery7127
Lake6960
Tipton6926
Bledsoe6271
Bedford5989
Macon5686
Hamblen4474
Maury4313
Hardeman4004
Fayette3573
Madison3472
Loudon3201
Blount3063
Rhea3030
Dyer2803
McMinn27018
Cheatham2643
Dickson2510
Washington2350
Lawrence2276
Cumberland2004
Anderson1892
Sullivan1892
Lauderdale1754
Gibson1661
Jefferson1641
Monroe1526
Smith1482
Greene1382
Coffee1370
Cocke1300
Hardin1257
Warren1200
Obion1182
Haywood1132
Franklin1103
Wayne1100
Marshall1082
Hickman1010
McNairy1001
Marion914
Giles891
Carter871
Lincoln840
Hawkins832
DeKalb820
White813
Roane800
Overton701
Weakley691
Claiborne680
Campbell671
Grundy652
Henderson650
Chester590
Unicoi560
Grainger550
Polk550
Carroll521
Henry500
Crockett493
Cannon460
Jackson460
Johnson450
Sequatchie450
Humphreys392
Meigs370
Perry370
Morgan301
Decatur280
Fentress270
Stewart270
Scott260
Union220
Houston200
Clay180
Moore170
Benton151
Hancock110
Lewis100
Van Buren90
Pickett70

 

 

Community Events