COVID-19 rumours: WhatsApp puts cap on frequently forwarded messages to flatten curve of virality

Written by Nandagopal Rajan
| New Delhi |

Published: April 7, 2020 12:30:02 pm

COVID-19 rumours: WhatsApp puts cap on frequently forwarded messages to flatten curve of virality

Nowhere does the coronavirus spread faster than on messaging apps. However, WhatsApp is doing its bit to slow down the spread of misinformation related to the pandemic. A new feature on the world’s most popular messaging platform will prevent a frequently forwarded message from being sent to more than one chat. The new feature is being rolled out globally.

This is how it works. When you get a new message on your phone that has already been forwarded more than five times, you will be able to forward it only to one more chat — this could be a person or a group.

In January 2019, WhatsApp had set a global limit on forwarded messages and started showing the frequently forwarded icon on such posts.

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Rumours and videos purportedly showing coronavirus patients or touting cures for the pandemic have been going viral on all social media platforms and creating a headache for health as well as security agencies. Most state governments have warned of criminal action if such messages are forwarded by anyone. The new measure by WhatsApp can go a long way in flattening the curve of virality for these messages.

WhatsApp is also working on a new feature — now in beta testing with some users in some geographies — that empowers users to get more information about messages that are going viral on the platform.

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As part of the beta feature, a much-forwarded message will show a magnifying glass icon next to it, giving users the option to send that message to a web search that shows news results or other sources of information pertaining to the post.

WhatsApp hopes the ability to easily verify the authenticity of some messages will also help reduce the spread of rumours. WhatsApp has not announced when this feature will be rolled out to all users.

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Understanding how the platform could be misused during the pandemic, WhatsApp recently launched services that helped people connect with the World Health Organisation and MyGov app of the Government of India for credible information on Covid-19. It has also announced similar services with state governments in Delhi (+91 88000 07722), Maharashtra (+91 20 2612 739), Gujarat (+91 74330 00104), Telangana (+91 90006 58658) and Kerala (+91 90722 20183). More such helplines are expected to launch in the coming weeks.

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