There has been a lot of misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and WhatsApp is trying to combat this by implementing a new rule on forwarding messages.
This new restriction builds on measures that WhatsApp had previously announced that messages that are identified as highly forwarded (sent through a chain of 5+ people) would only be forwarded to one person. Now, WhatsApp has limited message forwarding to just five users at a time.
There was a time when you could forward up to 256 messages via WhatsApp if wanted, but recently, the platform has increasingly become a top choice for spreading misinformation, which is damaging, at times, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Various reports have singled out the platform as a key source of misinformation campaigns due to its end-to-end encryption, and massive use. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, these misinformation initiatives have ranged from “false cures” to 5G being the cause of coronavirus.
One article from The Guardian stated, “More traditional social networks such as Facebook and search engines such as Google have made substantial effort to crack down on coronavirus misinformation, but messages on WhatsApp are encrypted and untraced, which means claims can be viewed by tens of millions of people without being fact-checked by authorities or news organizations.”
On Facebook, it is relatively easy to remove posts that break service rules, but the encryption on WhatsApp ensures that no one else apart from those involved in a conversation can see the content in it. WhatsApp’s reach makes serious concerns in this respect. It is by far the leading messaging app in most markets, and it’s quite popular in developing countries.
Facebook is also testing similar limits on the forwarding of messages in its Messenger app, which is also hugely used in spreading misinformation.
It is critical to receive timely and accurate information as millions of people try to understand what to do to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and what they can do to protect themselves. Facebook has been working hard to stop misinformation campaigns, but the end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp makes it very difficult for the company to stop misinformation even though they are trying their best.