The spread of “highly forwarded” messages on WhatsApp has dropped by 70 percent as a result of the company’s new forwarding limits, TechCrunch reports. The new measures were introduced at the beginning of April in response to the spread of coronavirus-related misinformation on the service. The changes meant that any message that’s already been forwarded by five or more people can now only be forwarded to a single person or group.
The news means that WhatsApp’s new limit is successfully slowing down the spread of viral messages, despite the fact that people still have the option of manually forwarding a message to multiple people or groups. However, it’s impossible to know how many of these messages contain the misinformation that WhatsApp is trying to halt, versus how many of them are helpful advice or harmless memes.
WhatsApp has faced intense scrutiny about the role of its service in spreading misinformation during the pandemic. WhatsApp groups can contain as many as 256 participants, meaning messages can spread quickly between a large number of users. Last month, CNN and other news organizations reported that the service was being used to share misinformation about coronavirus cures, and the Indian government has asked WhatsApp and other social media firms to do more to control the spread of viral misinformation on their platforms.
“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,” the company said when it announced the new measures. “We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”
This isn’t the first time WhatsApp has introduced changes to help slow the spread of misinformation. In 2018, it started labeling forwarded messages to let you know that the person you received a message from might not be the original sender, and last year, it introduced a five-person forwarding limit for messages. The service has also promoted the use of a World Health Organization bot to provide verified information about the COVID-19 pandemic.