Facebook-owned WhatsApp is the world's largest messaging service. It has more than 2 billion users globally of which more than 400 million users are in India alone. The company has announced a new way to curb misinformation in the time of the Coronavirus pandemic. On its official blog, WhatsApp says, “Last year we introduced users to the concept of messages that have been forwarded many times. These messages are labelled with double arrows to indicate they did not originate from close contact. In effect, these messages are less personal compared to typical messages sent on WhatsApp. We are now introducing a limit so that these messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time.”
Put simply, this means that if you would like to share a message, and it is one that you received as a forward, marked with two arrows, then you will not be able to send this message to more than one contact or one chat at a time. This will help reduce the spread of misinformation and fake news in times when the slightest scare can cause panic. WhatsApp says that when it limited the number of forwards to 5, it saw a “25% decrease in message forwards globally”.
The WhatsApp blog goes on to say, “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 organize 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. We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”
WhatsApp has been an instrumental service in the fight against COVID-19. The Indian government has launched a WhatsApp chatbot to create awareness about the coronavirus. Users can chat with the bot by sending a message on +919013151515. You can learn more about it here. WhatsApp has also launched a Coronavirus Information Hub in an effort to help curb the spread of misinformation on its platform. The platform has also donated $1 Million to the Poynter Institute's International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). You can read more about it here. Lastly, WhatsApp has also limited its video status to 15 seconds in India to save bandwidth. You can read more about it here.