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Could a limit on forwarding messages slow coronavirus fake news?

Could a limit on forwarding messages slow coronavirus fake news?
Copyright Martin Meissner/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press.
Copyright Martin Meissner/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press.
By Seana Davis
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WhatsApp is aiming to slow down the spread of viral messages with misinformation on the platform amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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WhatsApp has imposed a limit on forwarding messages in a bid to curb the spread of disinformation amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The double-arrow icon alerts users as to whether a message has been forwarded more than five times. From today, once these messages have been tagged as "highly forwarded," there will be a limit such that these messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time.

This will stop the ability of forwarding viral messages through to multiple chats at once, with an aim of slowing down disinformation though messaging channels.

In a blog post, the company said that they have noted a "significant increase in the amount of forwarding," adding that this can "contribute to the spread of misinformation".

The company did acknowledge that there are benefits of being able to spread messages quickly on the platform.

"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 organise public moments of support for frontline health workers"

However, they said that it is "important to slow the spread of [misinformation] to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation," allowing facts to catch up with false information.

Numerous copied-and-pasted posts have been circulating with false or misleading misinformation within them, shared on platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp.

This isn't the first time the company has limited the sending of messages en masse. In 2019, WhatsApp put a cap on five chats per forward, adding that this would "help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app".

Social media companies have been urged to step up their efforts in the fight against misinformation. In March, the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varakdar urged people to stop sharing "unverified information" on WhatsApp groups. Meanwhile, the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen called on Big Tech to "step up their action against disinformation on the coronavirus".

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