Each one of us has probably received a chain message via WhatsApp that tells us of a miraculously simple yet false cure for COVID-19, or other fake news regarding the virus. The text messaging app has now put measures in place to curb the spread of misinformation pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic.
As reported by The Verge, WhatsApp has placed new limits in the forwarding of messages. A chain text that has been sent to five or more people will be identified as ‘highly forwarded’, and will then only be able to be sent to individual contacts as opposed to the previous limit of 256 people.
“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,” WhatsApp said in a statement. “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.”
“As a private messaging service, we’ve taken several steps over the years to help keep conversations intimate. For example, we previously set limits on forwarded messages to constrain virality, which led to a 25% decrease in message forwards globally at the time,” it added.
WhatsApp reportedly instated these changes after it came under fire for being a tool of spreading fake news. In March, CNN and several other major news organisations found that the app had been used to spread false “cures” for the coronavirus and what lengths governments were going to to fight the virus.
“In addition to this change, we are working directly with NGOs and governments, including the World Health Organisation and over 20 national health ministries, to help connect people with accurate information,” WhatsApp said. “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 organisations, on our Coronavirus Information Hub.”