WhatsApp puts limit on message forwarding to fight fake news

  21 January 2019    Read: 1648
  WhatsApp   puts limit on message forwarding to fight fake news

WhatsApp users will be blocked from forwarding messages to more than five individuals or groups under new rules the messaging service is rolling out worldwide to fight the spread of misinformation.

The company’s vice-president for policy and communications, Victoria Grand, announced the policy at an event in Jakarta on Monday, Reuters reported.

The five-recipient limit was initially put in place in India last July after the messaging service was blamed for a spate of vigilante killings triggered by misinformation spread through networks of friends and families. A larger limit, of 20 recipients, was put in place globally at the same time.

In a blogpost last July, WhatsApp said the limits would “help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app”.

WhatsApp’s message forwarding mechanics have been blamed for helping the spread of fake news, in part because of the way the app displays forwarded messages. A text message that has been forwarded to a new recipient is marked as forwarded in light grey text, but otherwise appears indistinguishable from an original message sent by the contact. Critics saythe design “strips away the identity of the sender and allows messages to spread virally with little accountability”.

Others had called on Facebook, which bought WhatsApp for $18bn in 2014, to limit forwarding globally. In an opinion piece published in the New York Times in the run-up to the 2018 Brazilian election, in which WhatsApp-powered misinformation was widely thought to have affected the result, three academics called on the company to introduce the five-recipient limit globally.

They said Facebook should restrict broadcasts so that a single user cannot text hundreds of others at once, and limit the size of new groups during the electoral period.

WhatsApp did not reply to a request for comment.

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