Tuesday 7 April 2020 4:23 pm

Whatsapp limits message forwarding to fight coronavirus fake news

Whatsapp will impose a limit on message forwarding in a bid to halt the rapid spread of misinformation about coronavirus on its platform.

The social media firm said that when users receive a message that has already been forwarded multiple times, they will only be able to send it on to one chat at a time.

This is a tightening of measures rolled out last year, when the platform limited forwarding to five chats at a time.

Whatsapp defines frequently forwarded messages as ones that have been sent on five times. These are marked with a double arrow in the app to indicate they did not originate from a close contact.

While the rules will not prevent the viral spread of misinformation, they will slow down the pace at which messages can be shared and make it harder for users to reach all their contacts at once.

Pressure is building on social media firms to crack down on the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories relating to the pandemic — such as false claims that coronavirus is linked to 5G.

“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 in a blog post published today.

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

The Facebook-owned messaging service said it is also working with governments and health organisations to promote accurate information about the virus.

The firm last month launched a coronavirus chatbot that gives users access to the latest information from the World Health Organization.

Max Heinemeyer, director of threat hunting at cybersecurity firm Darktrace, said the latest measures would help to slow the spread of misinformation, but warned malicious actors were using so-called deep fake technology to exploit fears about the pandemic.

“To protect the public from misinformation and cyber attacks, organisations must continue to innovate, embracing artificial intelligence to weed out the foe from the friend,” he said.

“New security strategies must be able to handle the shades of grey within complex information sets, if it has a chance of spotting the wolf in sheep’s clothing.”