WhatsApp Places Further Limits on Forwarded Messages to Curb Covid-19 Misinformation

Those that have been shared five times already can only be passed on to one chat at a time

WhatsApp bans roughly 2 million accounts per month for attempting to send bulk or automated messages stockcam/iStock

WhatsApp is limiting the ability to forward messages in an effort to cut off the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.

Once a message has previously been forwarded five times, it can only be forwarded to one chat at a time, effective Tuesday.

The Facebook-owned messaging application set a limit in January 2019, saying at the time that messages could only be forwarded to five chats at a time.

Messages that have been forwarded several times are also labeled with double arrows to indicate that they did not originate from close contacts.

WhatsApp said it bans roughly 2 million accounts per month for attempting to send bulk or automated messages.

WhatsApp said in a blog post Tuesday, “Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not. 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 organize public moments of support for front-line health workers. 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.”

The beta release of WhatsApp also contains a feature where a magnifying glass appears next to frequently forwarded messages, enabling users to send those messages to web searches directing them to news results or information from credible sources.

WhatsApp said, “Double-checking these messages before forwarding may help reduce the spread of rumors,” adding that the feature is still in the testing stage.

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.