By David Meyer
January 21, 2019

WhatsApp is drastically restricting users’ ability to forward messages to others, as it seeks to clamp down on the spread of misinformation via its platform.

“Starting today, all users on the latest versions of WhatsApp can now forward to only five chats at once, which will help keep WhatsApp focused on private messaging with close contacts, the Facebook-owned company said in an emailed statement. “We’ll continue to listen to user feedback about their experience, and over time, look for new ways of addressing viral content.”

The change will apparently apply around the world. Facebook-owned WhatsApp has already been trying out increased restrictions for the last six months — a limit of 20 forwards globally, and just five in India, where WhatsApp has provided a vector for the spread of child abduction rumors that resulted in mob lynchings.

“WhatsApp carefully evaluated this test and listened to user feedback over a six-month period,” the statement read. “The forward limit significantly reduced forwarded messages around the world.”

Company executives told Reuters that the update will roll out to Android users first, followed by iPhone users.

At the same time as it began trialing the restrictions last year, WhatsApp also started labeling messages that had been forwarded, so people knew they were not original.

WhatsApp may be particularly closely monitored in India — where the government just proposed new rules to stamp out the spread of “fake news” over social media — but its role in misinformation campaigns is certainly not limited to that country.

The recent election of the far-rightist Jair Bolsonaro to the Brazilian presidency has been attributed by some to massive fake news campaigns on WhatsApp.

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