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WhatsApp limits message forwarding to combat ‘fake news’

All users on the latest versions of WhatsApp can now forward to only five chats at once.

Mobile-messaging platform WhatsApp has set up a restriction to the amount of times a message can be forwarded to others, the company said on Monday, in an attempt to prevent the spread of fake news and the misuse of the app.

‘Starting today (January 21), all users on the latest versions of WhatsApp can now forward to only five chats at once, which will help keep WhatsApp focused on private messaging with close contacts,’ WhatsApp said.

‘We'll continue to listen to user feedback about their experience, and over time, look for new ways of addressing viral content,’ it added.

Prior to the restriction, users could forward any message up to 20 times on the app.

The Facebook-owned mobile messaging service said the latest move was decided after a six-month review of user feedback. In July, WhatsApp had imposed message forwarding restrictions in India after the Indian government threatened to act following a spate of mob-related violence and killings that were caused by widely-circulated WhatsApp messages.

WhatsApp and Facebook have been drawing lots of flake online on these violent lynchings caused by rumours, often accusing innocent victims of child-abduction and organ harvesting.

Viral fake news circulated faster in India due to WhatsApp’s previous forwarding function

The spate of lynchings started in May 2017 when seven men were killed in Jharkhand, a state in Eastern India. Messages on child abductions were circulated through the mobile app that spooked villagers into believing that their children were targeted. Strangers who fitted the description in the messages were targeted and beaten to death. Many of those killed in that spate of violence were Muslims, a minority race in the country.

Although mob violence, vigilante justice and outbreaks of mass panic behaviour have been precedent throughout India’s history, due to the functions and mass usage of the messaging app in India, inflammatory rumours were being circulated faster and more quickly than in the past.

WhatsApp has over 200 million users in India. It is the app’s single largest market.

WhatsApp was founded in 2009 and was bought over by Facebook in 2014. As of early 2018, the messaging app was reported to have more than 1.5 billion users globally, who exchanged 65 billion messages per day.

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