WhatsApp limits message forwards in an attempt to fight fake news

Facebook’s WhatsApp messenger service is globally limiting the number of times a user can forward a message to five, in a bid to fight “misinformation and rumors”, company executives said.
WhatsApp, which has around 1.5 billion users, has been trying to find ways to stop misuse of the app, following global concern that the platform was being used to spread fake news.
WhatsApp, which has around 1.5 billion users, has been trying to find ways to stop misuse of the app, following global concern that the platform was being used to spread fake news.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Facebook Inc's WhatsApp messenger service is globally limiting the number of times a user can forward a message to five, in a bid to fight "misinformation and rumours", company executives said on Monday (Jan 21).

"We're imposing a limit of five messages all over the world as of today," Ms Victoria Grand, vice president for policy and communications at WhatsApp, said at an event in the Indonesian capital.

Previously, a WhatsApp user could forward a message to 20 individuals or groups. The five-recipient limit expands globally a measure WhatsApp put into place in India in July after the spread of rumours on social media led to killings and lynching attempts.

WhatsApp said the forwarding limit significantly reduced forwarded messages around the world, and that it would continue to evaluate the effects of the changes.

WhatsApp, which has around 1.5 billion users, has been trying to find ways to stop misuse of the app, following global concern that the platform was being used to spread fake news, manipulated photos, videos without context, and audio hoaxes, with no way to monitor their origin or full reach.

The app's end-to-end encryption allows groups of hundreds of users to exchange texts, photos and video beyond the purview of independent fact checkers or even the platform itself.

WhatsApp will roll out an update to activate the new forward limit, starting Monday, WhatsApp's head of communications Carl Woog told Reuters.

Android users will receive the update first, followed by users of Apple's iOS.

The company’s parent, Facebook, has been the subject of global scrutiny over its role in the spread of fake news and disinformation over the past year in particular.

The social network is under investigation in several countries for letting the data of millions of its users end up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm working on Donald Trump’s 2016 US presidential campaign.

Facebook faced particular criticism in Asia over whether it had done enough to combat the spread of violence in Myanmar.

In India, its Free Basics, which offers a minimalist web for emerging markets, was also banned for violating net neutrality. The government has threatened legal action if the company doesn’t do more to clean up the problems.