In wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, WhatsApp is adding another restriction on forwards to reduce velocity of the spread of messages on its end-to-end encrypted platform. Forwards can be sent to only one chat/person at a time now, down from the earlier restriction of forwards to five people/chat at a time, which WhatsApp said reduced global forwards by 25%. This is a much-needed restriction, and acts as a parallel measure to social distancing: limit movement, limit the spread.

WhatsApp said that although all forwards are not bad, they have increased significantly, and users have said that it “can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation”. WhatsApp has aimed to reduce velocity of misinformation spreading by removing the forward button next to media, added a forward sign (double arrows) to all such messages, and restricting forwards to 5 people/chats at a time.

WhatsApp also reiterated the need to slow the spread of these messages down “to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation”, a point it has highlighted repeatedly. WhatsApp’s Matt Jones, who leads the anti-spam engineering team at the company, had said over a year ago that “we’re not here to give people a megaphone, we’re here for private messaging,”.

Misinformation on COVID-19 has been spreading in India since the early days of the outbreak. Most recently, fake news that Muslims are actively working to spread the virus in India are abound on WhatsApp and Facebook. Another claims that hot water and lemons kill the coronavirus.


Feature image courtesy: The SpinOff, published under CC-BY-SA.