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New WhatsApp restrictions to curb the spread of misinformation about Covid-19

Volumes of misinformation about coronavirus has been circulated through messaging and social media apps.

Image: Shutterstock/Alex Ruhl

MESSAGING APP WHATSAPP has announced today that it is introducing restrictions on the forwarding of messages through its platform in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19 misinformation.

Large volumes of misinformation around the novel coronavirus have been circulated through messaging and social media apps since the virus first appeared back in December 2019. 

Factchecking organisations and outlets, including TheJournal.ie, have been working tirelessly to debunk misinformation, while social media companies are also trying to restrict the flow of such content.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, said it has seen “a significant increase in the amount of forwarding” of content over recent weeks and that users report feeling “overwhelmed” by the volume. 

In a blogpost today, the company said it is removing its rule that messages can only be forwarded to a maximum of five people at a time, and is now introducing a new rule that messages can only be forwarded to one person at a time. 

“With billions of people unable to see their friends and family in person due to Covid-19, people are relying on WhatsApp more than ever to communicate. People are talking to doctors, teachers, and isolated loved ones via WhatsApp during this crisis.

“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 are now introducing a limit so that these messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time.

The company said that while it is not stopping people from forwarding messages to whomever they like, they are restricting people from forwarding messages, videos etc. to more than one person in one go. 

It hopes the move will slow down the spread of misinformation around the Covid-19 health crisis in countries around the world. 

Other companies, including Twitter, have also taken measures to help slow the spread by adding links to the World Health Organisation and the HSE websites where accurate and fact-based information can be obtained. 

WhatsApp also added that forwarding messages on its platform is not, in itself, a bad thing as ”many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful”.

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