WhatsApp tightens rules on sharing to curb spread of fake virus news

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

WhatsApp on Tuesday placed new limits on message forwarding as part of an effort to curb the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.

The new policy limits users to forwarding certain messages to one "chat" at a time, aiming to limit the rapid propagation of content which is provocative but likely to be false.

The Facebook-owned messaging platform said it took the action to enable people to concentrate on personal and private communications during the health crisis.

In recent weeks, "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."

Last year, WhatsApp set limits on forwarded messages to five chats at a time, "to constrain virality," responding to events in India where the rapid proliferation of unverified information led to mob violence.

The new policy applies to messages forwarded "many times" and marked with a double-arrow, indicating that it did not originate from a close contact, according to WhatsApp.

"In effect, these messages are less personal compared to typical messages sent on WhatsApp," the blog said.

"We are now introducing a limit so that these messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time."

WhatsApp along with its parent Facebook have been scrambling to curb an explosion of rumors and hoaxes about the coronavirus and at the same time seeking to promote verified content.

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