WhatsApp puts limits on message forwarding to curb COVID-19 misinformation

WhatsApp (Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • WhatsApp is tackling the spread of misinformation on its platform by putting limits on message forwarding.
  • Starting today, users can only forward messages to one chat at a time.
  • WhatsApp is also teaming up with local governments and NGOs over a coronavirus information hub.

Last week, I wrote about how the message forwarding feature in WhatsApp was being used to spread misinformation on COVID-19, and suggested the platform disable message forwarding entirely.

WhatsApp is now putting severe limits on message forwards during this crisis. You can only forward messages to one chat at a time, with WhatsApp noting that it is enforcing the change to limit the spread of fake content on the service:

Last year we introduced users to the concept of messages that have been forwarded many times. These messages are labeled with double arrows to indicate they did not originate from a close contact. In effect, these messages are less personal compared to typical messages sent on WhatsApp. We are now introducing a limit so that these messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time.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.

This is a welcome move that will curtail the spread of misinformation on WhatsApp, particularly in countries like India, where the service has over 500 million users. WhatsApp also mentioned that it is working with NGOs and government agencies to provide accurate information about the virus, with the platform setting up a coronavirus information hub:

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. 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.

WhatsApp for Android: Everything you need to know

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is Android Central's Senior Editor of Asia. In his current role, he oversees the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, networking products, and AV gear. He has been testing phones for over a decade, and has extensive experience in mobile hardware and the global semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.