• WhatsApp is changing its rules again to slow the spread of misinformation on its platform, this time because of the Covid-19 disaster.
  • "Double arrow" messages, which have already been forwarded more than five times, will now have a new limit: you'll only be able to forward them to one chat at a time.
  • Any message can already be forwarded to only five individuals or groups at a time, in rules implemented to slow misinformation spread after riots in India.
  • Forwarded messages are not all bad, the Facebook-owned company says, pointing to efforts to support health workers and organise communities.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

WhatsApp on Tuesday announced new limits on message forwarding in an apparent effort to slow the spread of viral misinformation around Covid-19, much like many countries are trying to slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus behind it.

The Facebook-owned company said "double arrow" messages will now be limited to forwarding one chat at a time, so that any user can send such messages only to one other individual or group at a time.

"Double arrow" messages were previously introduced to mark messages that "did not originate from a close contact". It introduces the two-arrow icon for any message forwarded more than five times.

WhatsApp already has a global limit that only allows any message to be forwarded to five individuals or groups at a time, down from a previous limit of 20. That change was introduced after messages spread on its platform were blamed for deadly riots in India.

See also: WhatsApp is cutting its forward limit to 5 from 20 – straight away

Practically speaking, that means the originator of a piece of misinformation can distribute it five chats at a time. Each of those recipients can then send the message to five more chats at a time, as can their recipients – until the chain reaches five forwards deep. From that point onwards, recipients will have to manually forward it one person or group at a time.

The five-at-a-time limit led to a 25% decrease in message forwards around the world, WhatsApp said, but it has now recorded "a significant increase in the amount of forwarding" again.

It is not trying to stop the forwarding of messages, WhatsApp made clear in its announcement. 

See also: SA expects WhatsApp to ‘immediately’ remove fake coronavirus news under new rules

"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 organise public moments of support for frontline health workers."

It is simply trying to "to slow the spread" of messages, including misinformation, "to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation."

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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