By Adedapo Adesanya
WhatsApp has said that effective Tuesday, April 7, 2020, it would place new limits on the forwarding of messages to curtail the misinformation related to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a blog post published by the Facebook owned company, it said messages that have been identified as highly forwarded, that is – sent through a chain of five or more people – can only now be forwarded to a single person.
The move is designed to reduce the speed with which information moves through WhatsApp so they can help separate truth from fiction.
“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 frontline 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 messaging platform wrote on the blog post.
In 2018, after some trouble experiences in India, when the app was used to spread hate and incite violence, WhatsApp began experimenting with limits on the number of times a message could be forwarded and also began labelling forwarded messages for the first time, and adding two arrows to show that a message has been repeatedly forwarded.
Last year, the company began limiting the number of people messages can be forwarded to, five, but despite this, a user can forward the same message at a different time to different people.
However, this help brought down rate of forwarding overall in 2019, which, according to WhatsApp, fell by 25 percent around the world.
With the amount of misinformation being spread daily over the app, WhatsApp has been called to help shed light on theories and false information such as cures and hoaxes been shared regarding the outbreak.
In response, WhatsApp also promoted a bot made by the World Health Organization (WHO) that provides information about the disease that has been vetted by healthcare professionals and also donated $1 million to the International Fact-Checking Network.
To use the service, WhatsApp users can save the number (+41 79 893 1892) to their phone contacts, then text the word ‘Hi’ in a WhatsApp message to begin.
The bot will then respond via a series of prompts, covering key queries and information would help dispel some of the rumours and misinformation around the outbreak which have been spreading via social and messaging apps.
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