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WhatsApp to limit message forwarding to stop spread of disinformation

By Martyn Landi, PA Technology Correspondent

WhatsApp has introduced new stricter limits on message forwarding in a bid to stop the spread of disinformation.

Now, when users receive a message that has already been frequently forwarded they will only be able to forward it to one chat at a time.

Previously, such messages could be forwarded to five different chats at once.

Frequently forwarded messages are those that have already been forwarded at least five times by others, and are marked by a set of double arrows when appearing in the app.

WhatsApp said the change was part of efforts to fight the spread of disinformation, particularly around the coronavirus outbreak.

Internet platforms have so far struggled to contain content attempting to profit from panic around the pandemic, as well as false claims offering cures to the virus and conspiracy theories linking the outbreak with 5G technology.

The Facebook-owned messaging service said although it did not see message forwarding as inherently bad, it had concerns about the practice being used to spread false information.

“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,” WhatsApp said.

“We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”

Because WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, it cannot see the content of messages and therefore use the same moderation tools that are deployed by social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

As a result, the platform has had to take steps to try to cut the mass spread of harmful messages and has steadily reduced the amount of times messages can be forwarded at once in recent years.

WhatsApp also confirmed it was testing a feature which would allow users to find out more information about frequently forwarded messages that reach them.

The feature would see a magnifying glass icon appear next to these forwarded messages, giving users the option to do a web search for the message to find news stories and other results linked to it.

On Monday, MPs called for social media platforms to be held to account by the Government over their handling of disinformation on their services, while Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is to discuss the issue with tech giants this week.

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