WhatsApp is imposing limits on message forwarding to reduce the spread of coronavirus misinformation on its platform. If you receive a message that’s been forwarded more than five times, then you can only forward it to one chat at a time.
WhatsApp is a valuable platform for communicating and sharing accurate information during this pandemic, but it’s also a hotbed for conspiracy theories and misinformation. Many WhatsApp users, and especially middle-aged adults on the platform, are caught in forwarding chains of impossible coronavirus cures and prevention methods—like the idea that zinc lozenges prevent the virus from infecting your respiratory system, or that onions suck illness out of the air (an old wive’s tale from the Spanish Flu pandemic).
These examples are kind of funny, but they aren’t harmless. People often use cure-alls and snake oil to avoid real preventative measures—namely social distancing and self-isolation. Plus, some WhatsApp forwarding chains are full of genuinely malicious pieces of misinformation, such as the conspiracy theory that 5G causes COVID-19, or that black people are somehow immune to the virus (a disgusting and dangerous claim that also originated during the Spanish Flu).
This is the second time that WhatsApp has set limits on message forwarding. In 2018, the platform imposed a rule that users could only forward messages to five chats at a time. This was in response to a yearlong spate of lynchings in India, which were purportedly caused by the viral spread of misinformation on WhatsApp.
Facebook’s decision to limit forwarding on WhatsApp won’t eliminate the spread of misinformation. But when the platform imposed similar restrictions last year, it lead to a 25% decrease in message forwarding, which should help to reduce the spread of misinformation. If you need accurate Coronavirus information for your family’s group chat, visit the CDC or WHO website.