WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned chat service, has announced that it will cap the number of messages that can be forwarded at once at five, Reuters reported Monday. The move is WhatsApp’s latest effort to limit the spread of misinformation and fake news on its app.
The change will reportedly be effective as of Monday. The app previously allowed users outside to forward as many as 20 messages to groups or individuals, with an exception being India, where the company previously limited forwarded messages to five following a series of deaths incited by viral hoaxes.
The end-to-end encrypted chat service previously allowed users to forward up to 250 messages to users or groups, eventually whittling that number down to 20 last year. The company said Monday in a blog post that the newly lowered limit on forwarded messages “will help keep WhatsApp focused on private messaging with close contacts.”
“We’ll continue to listen to user feedback about their experience, and over time, look for new ways of addressing viral content,” the company said.
The move comes less than a year after a series of lynchings of innocent people in India, where the company said last year more images and messages are forwarded on its service than anywhere else in the world. In June, two men who had stopped in a remote village seeking directions were violently beaten to death by a mob who believed them to be child kidnappers; the spread of viral hoaxes about child predators and organ harvesting resulted in the deaths of at least 20 people last year.
In a statement in early July, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology called on WhatsApp to “take immediate action to end this menace and ensure that their platform is not used for such [mala fide] activities.” The service’s announcement about its forwarding limit arrived just weeks later.
Coordinated disinformation and propaganda efforts on WhatsApp ahead of the October election in Brazil also led the company to ban “hundreds of thousands of accounts,” Bloomberg reported at the time.
WhatsApp’s effort to get its hands around the spread of misinformation on its platform comes as its parent company Facebook continues to tackle fake news on its own platform. Just last week, Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in a blog post that it had removed “multiple” accounts and groups on Facebook as well as Instagram linked to Russia misinformation campaigns.