In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, social media has seen more users than ever—with people being physically unable to be with each other, everyone is relying on social media to keep themselves connected to the world. WhatsApp, the most popular messaging app with two billion users across the globe, saw a growth of as much as 40 percent in its use in the pandemic. However, with an increase in the use of social media, what has also gone up is the spread of misinformation, especially on WhatsApp.
Misinformation and fake news—which are always a cause for worry and generally rely on a network of forwards to be spread—are even more concerning in the middle of a pandemic. And so, to curb their spread WhatsApp imposed a new restriction on forwarded messages on April 7. The restrictions say that any message that has been forwarded five or more times will now face a new limit that will prevent a user from forwarding it to more than one contact (chat) at a time.
This introduction of a new limit has led to a 70 percent drop in the forwarding of viral messages around the globe. "WhatsApp is committed to doing our part to tackle viral messages. Since putting into place this new limit, globally there has been a 70 percent reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages sent on WhatsApp," a company spokesperson said in a statement shared with IANS. "This change is helping keep WhatsApp a place for personal and private conversations." On their blog, they said, “Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not. We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful. In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organise public moments of support for frontline health workers. However, 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, which saw forwards of coronavirus cures with absurd items, such as ginger, garlic, and even hot water, has over 400 million users in India. The app had put a forwarding limit in India back in July 2018 as well, when the fake news network had reached a new peak and was contributing to violent lynchings. “In India—where people forward more messages, photos, and videos than any other country in the world—we'll also test a lower limit of 5 chats at once and we'll remove the quick forward button next to media messages,” said their blog. Back then, it reduced the total number of forwards by 25 percent.
The app, which is working with NGOs and governments including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN), also came out with a WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub to help connect people to accurate information.
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