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WhatsApp limits text forwards to 5 recipients to fight misinformation, fake news

January 21, 2019 at 1:16pm

Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp messenger service is globally limiting the number of times a user can forward a message to five, in a bid to fight “misinformation and rumours”, company executives said on Monday.

“We’re imposing a limit of five messages all over the world as of today,” Victoria Grand, vice president for policy and communications at WhatsApp, said at an event in the Indonesian capital.

Previously, a WhatsApp user could forward a message to 20 individuals or groups. The five-recipient limit expands globally a measure WhatsApp put into place in India in July after the spread of rumours on social media led to killings and lynching attempts.

WhatsApp, which has around 1.5 billion users, has been trying to find ways to stop misuse of the app, following global concern that the platform was being used to spread fake news, manipulated photos, videos without context, and audio hoaxes, with no way to monitor their origin or full reach.

The app’s end-to-end encryption allows groups of hundreds of users to exchange texts, photos and video beyond the purview of independent fact checkers or even the platform itself.

WhatsApp will roll out an update to activate the new forward limit, starting Monday, WhatsApp’s head of communications Carl Woog told Reuters.

Android users will receive the update first, followed by users of Apple’s iOS.

Concurrent research during the Brazilian presidential election’s first round has indicated that out of the top fifty images circulating in political WhatsApp groups, only four were real, with the remainder either being distortions of the truth or hoaxes.

According to polls conducted a few days before the first round of the presidential elections, 81 percent of Bolsonaro’s supporters reported having used social media, while 61 percent reported using WhatsApp to access information and 40 percent claimed that they use the platform to share information. A poll conducted between the two rounds, showed that 47 percent of the respondents claimed to use WhatsApp to obtain news and information and a staggering 87 percent of them claiming they have received fake news via the platform.

(Reuters/Council on Foreign Relations)