WhatsApp limits message forwarding to five chats in India to stop spread of misinformation

WhatsApp will test restricting users to forwarding messages up to five one-on-one or group chats at once. The move comes amid a string of lynchings that were triggered by misinformation on alleged child abductors being spread using the application.

tech Updated: Jul 21, 2018 12:24 IST
Vidhi Choudhary
Vidhi Choudhary
Hindustan Times
Whatsapp,Lynchings,WHatsapp rumours
The WhatsApp messaging application is seen on a phone screen.(Reuters File Photo)

Instant messaging service WhatsApp has said it will limit the use of forwarded messages to up to five chats in a bid to curb the spread of misinformation and fake news in India, its largest markets.

“Today, we’re launching a test to limit forwarding on WhatsApp. 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,” the company said in an email on Friday morning.

“We believe that these changes – which we’ll continue to evaluate – will help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: A private messaging app,” it added.

WhatsApp’s latest features come after the Facebook-owned messaging app introduced a new label on 11 July to help users identify whether a message has been written by the sender or simply forwarded.

It also plans to create a system for preventing the spread of fake news and provocative texts in consultation with academic experts and law-enforcement agents, it had said in its earlier statement.

WhatsApp in India has come under scrutiny after forwarded messages on the platform have allegedly incited mob-fury, triggering multiple cases of lynching across the country, where there are more than 230 million monthly active users.

More than 1.5 billion people across the world use the messaging app.

The government warned WhatsApp on Thursday, in its second notice to the US-based messaging service in three weeks, that in the absence of adequate checks it will treat the messaging platform as an “abettor” of rumour propagation.

“When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischief mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability. If they remain mute spectators they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action,” the IT ministry said in a statement.

Prior to this, the government had expressed “deep disapproval” about WhatsApp’s inability to prevent the spread of “irresponsible and explosive material”.

Fake videos and rumours of child-lifting circulated via WhatsApp have triggered lynchings in at least eight states.

Taking note of the recent incident in Karnakata’s Bidar, where a 32-year-old software engineer was killed after messages about child lifters did the rounds on WhatsApp, the ministry rued that “rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes” on the platform have not been addressed adequately by the company.

“It is regretted that the enormity of the challenge and the rampant abuse happening in the country leading to the repeated commissioning of crimes pursuant to the rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on their platform have not been addressed adequately by WhatsApp,” it said.

Apart from labelling forwarded messages, WhatsApp has introduced a few initiatives to curb fake news.

According to a Reuters report, WhatsApp is working with seven organisations, which includes the likes of Centre For Social Research, to build and scale an education programme that can address the challenges posed by misinformation and fake news.

First Published: Jul 20, 2018 08:47 IST