WhatsApp has announced plans to further limit message forwarding in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus disinformation.
The Facebook-owned company said that if a user receives a message that has been forwarded more than five times, they will now only be able to send it on to a single chat at a time, rather than five.
According to reports, WhatsApp will also start displaying a magnifying glass icon next to frequently forwarded messages, giving users the option to send that message to a web search where they can find news results or other sources of information.
By imposing these new limits, WhatsApp hopes to slow the spread of the most viral messages on its platform, such as debunked conspiracy theories linking 5G technology to COVID-19. These widely-circulated claims have led to the vandalisation of more than 20 phone masts in the past week.
“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,” WhatsApp said in a blog post.
“We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”
WhatsApp adds that in addition to these new measures, it's 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," it said. "You can learn more about these efforts, as well as how to submit potential myths, hoaxes and rumours to fact-checking organizations, on our Coronavirus Information Hub."
This isn't the first time WhatsApp has moved to stop the spread of viral and potentially dangerous messages. In January, in a bid to tackle "fake news", the company blocked users from forwarding messages to more than five individuals or groups.
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Carly Page is a freelance technology journalist, editor and copywriter specialising in cyber security, B2B, and consumer technology. She has more than a decade of experience in the industry and has written for a range of publications including Forbes, IT Pro, the Metro, TechRadar, TechCrunch, TES, and WIRED, as well as offering copywriting and consultancy services.
Prior to entering the weird and wonderful world of freelance journalism, Carly served as editor of tech tabloid The INQUIRER from 2012 and 2019. She is also a graduate of the University of Lincoln, where she earned a degree in journalism.