WhatsApp Puts More Limit On Forward Messages To Stop Hoaxes From Going Viral

People share just about anything on social media apps, and that include bad information that can mislead people into believing what they shouldn't believe.

The so-called 'bad information' include hoaxes and fake news, that come in a variety of either misinformation, disinformation or malinformation.

During the coronavirus pandemic, anything that can mislead people can create even more panic.

For this reason, WhatsApp said that it is placing new limits on forwarded messages. With the update, messages that have been identified as “highly forwarded” - sent through a chain of five or more people - can only be forwarded to a single person.

The move is designed to reduce the speed of how viral messages can spread through WhatsApp.

In a blog post, WhatsApp said that:

"Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not. 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 organize public moments of support for frontline health workers. However, 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. We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation."

For pretty much of WhatsApp's existence, the messaging app allowed users to forward a single message to as many as 256 people with just a few taps.

Initially, these messages were not labeled as forwards. And because WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption made it almost impossible for anyone, even itself, to know who might have been using the app to spread hate speech or calls of violence, one the result was the crisis in India.

In the country, WhatsApp was linked to violence that killed many.

It was back in 2018 that WhatsApp started experimenting with limits on the number of times a message could be forwarded. It also began labeling forwarded messages, to then added the two arrows to show that a message has been repeatedly forwarded.

In 2019, the popular messaging app started limiting the number of people users can forward a single message to just five.

Now, WhatsApp is "introducing a limit so that these messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time."


For any reason, this is just a soft limit.

There is nothing preventing users from forwarding the same message over and over again to different people. There are ways to bypass the restriction, and WhatsApp can't do anything about that.

But still, WhatsApp in introducing the limit should add the friction needed to slow the rate of users forwarding viral messaging. This is an attempt to make WhatsApp a safer place to be.

Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, WhatsApp has been under the spotlight for its popularity.

In some cases, fake information that goes viral can create more dangerous outcome that the virus itself. One example about coronavirus hoax information that went brutal, was in Ukraine.

Back in February 2020, a hoax coronavirus email went viral and angered a whole town. The email said that there were five cases of coronavirus in the country, on the same day a plane carrying evacuees from China arrived, while in fact, there were no coronavirus cases in the country at the time.

The government event had to dispatch Prime Minister and Ministers to the town to help calm the citizens.

"In addition to this change, we are working directly with NGOs and governments, including the World Health Organization and over 20 national health ministries, to help connect people with accurate information," said WhatsApp.

"Together these trusted authorities have sent hundreds of millions of messages directly to people requesting information and advice. You can learn more about these efforts, as well as how to submit potential myths, hoaxes and rumors to fact checking organizations, on our Coronavirus Information Hub."

Further reading: UNDP, WHO And UNICEF Partner With WhatsApp To Push 'Real-Time' Health Information