WhatsApp update makes it more difficult to forward messages in attempt to stop spread of coronavirus misinformation

Feature intended to keep chat app 'personal and private', as well as limit hoaxes and rumours

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 07 April 2020 08:52
Comments
Whatsapp update makes its more difficult to forward messages

WhatsApp has introduced major restrictions on the mass forwarding of messages in an attempt to stop the spread of misinformation.

Like other social networks, WhatsApp has seen a rise in users spreading hoaxes, rumours and other kinds of false stories about coronavirus and other news events.

Now it will stop messages being repeatedly forwarded on, in bulk, to groups. Instead, users will have to work harder to pass information on. If a message is being repeatedly forwarded, users will only be able to send it to one chat at a time, rather than five.

WhatsApp is also testing a feature that would display a small magnifying glass next to any such messages. Users will then be able to click that and be taken to a web search for the message, with the intention of letting them find articles that may debunk the message or shed further light on any claims found within it – and not forward them on if they find the message is not true.

The features are intended to stop users forwarding messages that have not necessarily been checked and are likely to include false claims. Not all of the messages are necessarily about WhatsApp, with prevalent memes such as the "Martinelli" video warning and fears around the "dance of the pope" surging in recent weeks as more users than ever talked on the app.

WhatsApp noted that mass forwarding can also feel "overwhelming" as well as helping spread misinformation. "We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation," it said in a blog post.

The app already marked messages that had been forwarded multiple times, adding double arrows to show that they had started life many messages ago, and that they "did not originate from a close contact". Doing so was intended to show that the messages "are less personal compared to typical messages sent on WhatsApp", it said.

But it previously allowed those messages to work like any other on WhatsApp, allowing it still to be forwarded onto groups in the same way.

Now any message that has picked up that symbol – by being forwarded five times – will only be able to be passed onto one chat. Previously, the limit was five chats at once.

That limit was imposed in January 2019, with the intent of "constraining virality". The number of forwarded messages dropped by 25 per cent after that, WhatsApp said.

A new blog post from WhatsApp made clear that the intention of the feature was not to stop all forwarding or viral messages, but that it hoped the changes would allow people to be more careful about what they share.

"Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not," it wrote.

"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 organise public moments of support for frontline health workers.

"However, we’ve recently 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."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in