WhatsApp says its new rules reduce viral forwards by 70%

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In the coronavirus era, fake news and misinformation may have dire consequences.

What you need to know

  • WhatsApp placed forwarding limits on its service earlier this month.
  • The company now claims this has cut the spread of viral forwards by 70%.
  • WhatsApp forwards have been criticized as a breeding ground for hoaxes and fake news.

WhatsApp may have just recently instituted forwarding limits in its war against fake news and hoaxes, but the company says that it’s already seeing results.

A WhatsApp spokesperson shared an update on Monday, as reported by TechCrunch:

We recently introduced a limit to sharing ‘highly forwarded messages’ to just one chat. Since putting into place this new limit, globally there has been a 70% reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages sent on WhatsApp. This change is helping keep WhatsApp a place for personal and private conversations. WhatsApp is committed to doing our part to tackle viral messages

WhatsApp forwards, despite being a useful tool, have proven to be a breeding ground for misinformation even before the coronavirus crisis.

In an editorial earlier this month, Android Central’s Harish Jonnalagadda criticized WhatsApp’s inaction on forwards, writing:

WhatsApp needs to take charge here and roll out meaningful tools to curb misinformation on its platform. It should start by disabling message forwarding altogether, as that will limit how easily fake news spreads on the platform. By forcing everyone to manually copy and paste text into every group, WhatsApp will also be able to have a better idea of where a falsified message originated from.

These are unprecedented times, and the last thing we need is unnecessary panic brought on by misinformation. WhatsApp says it is serious about tackling fake news on its platform, and rolled out a way for users to search the web directly from the service. While that’s a step in the right direction, it needs to curtail the spread of misinformation in the first place. To do that, it has to remove message forwarding altogether.

WhatsApp didn’t go as far as removing forwarding from the platform, but the limitations it placed on the feature let those who use forwards in good faith continue to use them, while greatly limiting those who would use it to magnify misinformation.

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