WhatsApp has announced that the spread of “highly forwarded” messages on the platform has dropped by nearly 70%. This is a result of the limits that the messaging app has imposed on forwarding in an effort to stop the spread of misinformation on the global coronavirus pandemic.
The new measures took effect at the start of April. They technically limited the number of times you can forward a message to 7. The announcement from WhatsApp is a clear indication that the move has worked, and it seems the spread of viral messages on the platform is now a thing of the past.
Despite this, users still have the option of manually forwarding the message to the people or groups that they want. We are not sure how many people use this manual option and the implications it has, though. Additionally, WhatsApp has no way of telling if the information in the forwarded messages is misleading or false. It was just a blanket decision designed to limit the spread of viral messages.
WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging apps in the world. It has billions of users, making it a target for spreading information. WhatsApp groups typically have hundreds of participants, meaning that spreading information through these platforms is easy, especially if the only thing it takes is to just forward it.
The messaging app noted shortly before implementing the forwarding limits that most of its users had grown concerned about the number of misleading messages that they were encountering with regards to the COVID-19 crisis.
There was also pressure from governments and other public institutions, calling on WhatsApp, Facebook, and other social media platforms to do more to limit the spread of misinformation about the virus. Some of the major tech companies in the US did step up to the plate.
Google removed several apps on the Play Store accused of spreading wrong information about the virus, including the Infowars app, owned by the right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Jones’s account on Twitter was also banned for the same reason.
The global Coronavirus crisis remains one of the biggest global pandemics in recent memory. As of now, over 3.3 million cases have been reported worldwide with over 230,000 deaths.
The US is already one of the hardest hit countries. Over a million infections have been reported in the country, most in New York. The US has also seen over 63,000 deaths. White House projections indicate that the death toll could hit 74,000 before August.
The economic toll of the crisis has also been felt across the world. Analysts believe that the global economy is in recession and millions of people are already out of work as a result of stay-at-home orders issued in several countries. In such a situation, levels of anxiety are high as people contemplate what the future holds.
Spreading misinformation under such conditions is not only dangerous, but counterproductive to the efforts we have put in place to address the virus. It seems though that WhatsApp and other tech companies are stepping up to help address the issue.