SAN FRANCISCO (CBS Local) — WhatsApp is placing additional restrictions on the number of times a forwarded message can be shared simultaneously in new effort to curtail the spread of misinformation amid the coronavirus crisis.
The Facebook-owned instant messaging service said Tuesday that any message that has been forwarded five or more times will now face a new limit that prevents a user from forwarding it to more than one chat (contact) at a time.
WhatsApp has long been plagued by misinformation, but the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the problem.
“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,” the company wrote in a blogpost.
— KPIX 5 (@KPIXtv) April 7, 2020
“We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation,” the statement continued.
The move followed the spread of conspiracy theories linking 5G mobile networks with COVID-19 and appeared to inspire people to set fire to cell phone masts in Britain.
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.
Until 2018, for instance, a user had been able to forward a message to 250 groups at once, with each group capable of hosting hundreds of users.
But direct content moderation used on Facebook or Twitter is not possible on WhatsApp because chats are protected by end-to-end encryption blocking.