WhatsApp has begun implementing sweeping changes to the popular app one of which will see ads showing on the app. Earlier on, the Facebook-owned company rolled out a new feature to limit forwarded messages to only one contact at a time. This move was aimed at reducing the spread of misinformation on the app especially in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
Interesting, WhatsApp has now announced that this new feature has already achieved tremendous impact in just two weeks. An official statement revealed that there was a 70% reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages. The statement reads;
“WhatsApp is committed to doing our part to tackle viral messages. 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”.
The policy considers any message forwarded more than five times as a “highly forwarded” message.
It may be difficult to track how this new measure will help in mitigating the read of fake news and misinformation globally through the app due to the app’s end-to-end encryption on cheats. However, the reduction in the number of recipients might discourage some from attempting to make false information or fake news go viral since they can send to more than one person at a time.
WhatsApp first introduced a similar limit in 2018, when it restricted users from forwarding a message to more than five people or groups at once. While announcing the new restriction earlier this month, WhatsApp said message forwards on its service had dropped by 25% globally in two years.
“This change is helping keep WhatsApp a place for personal and private conversations. WhatsApp is committed to doing our part to tackle viral messages,” the spokesperson said today.
The cut down on forwards should help WhatsApp assuage the scrutiny it is receiving in many countries, including India, its biggest market.
New Delhi asked WhatsApp and other messaging and social media firms last month to do more to control the viral hoaxes circulating on their platforms about coronavirus infection. This is the latest of several similar advisories India has sent to social media firms operating in the country,
WhatsApp said earlier this month that it had seen a “significant” surge in the “amount of forwarding” in recent weeks that “users have told us can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation.”
In recent weeks, several users in India have circulated messages, often in good faith, that claimed that treatments had been found to battle coronavirus infection and that there were scientific explanations to back some of the community measures New Delhi had enforced such as asking people to make noise for five minutes or lighting candles and oil-lamps. Fact checkers said that none of these claims were factual.
WhatsApp and its parent firm, Facebook, have taken several efforts in recent months to help governments in many countries, including India, reach their citizens and share authoritative information about the coronavirus pandemic.
WhatsApp has huge reach, especially in developing regions, and its encryption systems make it more difficult to moderate what content is being shared, and with whom – and given the importance of timely, relevant messaging around COVID-19, the messaging app has sought to take these additional measures to address such. Which, as detailed by WhatsApp, are now having an impact.
Various reports have singled out WhatsApp as a key source of coronavirus misinformation. Among the more recent WhatsApp misinformation campaigns, authorities have debunked a WhatsApp message which claims that “new communication regulations” will enable governments to record people’s phone calls, while another campaign shared a voice message which claimed that COVID-19 deaths are set to spike significantly, and many of the victims will be children.
Again, right now, the need to accurate information around how to respond the virus is crucial, so it’s good to see WhatsApp, and other platforms, working to limit the spread of such campaigns.
WhatsApp has faced intense scrutiny about the role of its service in spreading misinformation during the pandemic. WhatsApp groups can contain as many as 256 participants, meaning messages can spread quickly between a large number of users. Last month, CNN and other news organizations reported that the service was being used to share misinformation about coronavirus cures, and the Indian government has asked WhatsApp and other social media firms to do more to control the spread of viral misinformation on their platforms.
“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,” the company said when it announced the new measures. “We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”
This isn’t the first time WhatsApp has introduced changes to help slow the spread of misinformation. In 2018, it started labeling forwarded messages to let you know that the person you received a message from might not be the original sender, and last year, it introduced a five-person forwarding limit for messages. The service has also promoted the use of a World Health Organization bot to provide verified information about the COVID-19 pandemic.