WhatsApp limits message forwarding in bid to tackle spread of misinformation

Facebook's WhatsApp is limiting the number of times a user can forward a message to five as the popular messaging service looks to fight "misinformation and rumours," company executives said on Monday.

End-to-end encryption allows groups of users to exchange texts, photos and video without oversight

Popular messaging service WhatsApp will start to roll out an update Monday that will limit to five the number of times a user can forward a message. (Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters)

Facebook's WhatsApp is limiting the number of times a user can forward a message to five, starting on Monday, as the popular messaging service looks to fight "misinformation and rumours," company executives said.

Previously, a WhatsApp user could forward a message to a total of 20 individuals or groups. The limit of five is an expansion of a measure WhatsApp put in place in India in July after the spread of rumours on social media were alleged to have led to killings and lynching attempts.

"We're imposing a limit of five messages all over the world as of today," Victoria Grand, vice-president for policy and communications at WhatsApp, said at an event in Jakarta. 

WhatsApp, which has around 1.5 billion users, has been trying to find ways to stop misuse of the app, following global concern the platform was being used to spread fake news, manipulated photos, videos without context and audio hoaxes, with no way to monitor their origin or full reach.

A woman holds a sign with the image of presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro that reads "He lies in WhatsApp," during a protest against Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Oct. 20, 2018. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

The messaging service became part of the political battleground in Brazil's presidential election last October, with far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro facing claims of using it to spread falsehoods related to his main opponent. Bolsonaro, who ended up coasting to victory, has denied the charges.

WhatsApp was also used to mobilize support for a massive truckers' strike in Brazil in May 2018 that blocked the country's main roadways for about 10 days and hampered everything from fuel deliveries to gas stations, to shipments of commodities at ports.

The app's end-to-end encryption allows groups with hundreds of members to exchange texts, photos and video beyond the oversight of independent fact-checkers or even the platform itself.

The WhatsApp app logo is seen on a smartphone. (Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters)

WhatsApp will start rolling out the update today to activate the new forward limit its head of communications Carl Woog told Reuters.

Users of devices running Google's Android system will receive the update first, followed by users of Apple's iOS.