(Getty Images)

  • WhatsApp is cutting the number of people you can forward a message to down to five, with immediate effect.
  • The platform is battling fake news and rumours that spread like wildfire around the world.
  • Its 1.5 billion users are due to start seeing the updated rule in action on Monday.

WhatsApp is starting to roll out an update that will limit to five the number of forwards for any message, it announced on Monday.

"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, according to Reuters.

The change will help to fight misinformation and rumour, Grand said.

WhatsApp first imposed that maximum of five forwards in India after mob killings in that country, triggered by false WhatsApp messages, in mid-2018. 

Watch: WhatsApp pledges to curb sinister, deadly messages

India is WhatsApp's biggest market, with about 200 million of its 1.5 billion users. In addition to technical measures, it launched campaigns there to educate its users about fake messages.

In a statement the Facebook-owned company said the change "will help keep WhatsApp focused on private messaging with close contacts" – rather than a way to send messages to a large number of users by forwarding it to multiple groups at once.

The forwarding limit applies to any chat, including groups. With an upper limit of 256 people per group, that puts the theoretical maximum number of people who can be reached by forwarding to five groups at 1,280 people – down from the 5,120 individuals that 20 forwards could have reached previously.

WhatsApp also offers a "broadcast list" function, which allows its users to send a single message to up to 256 people without creating a group for two-way communication. Only users who have the sender in their address book receive such broadcast messages. That function was not affected by the Indian forward limit, and is not expected to change in the new, world-wide update.

In South Africa a number of advertising scams rely on WhatsApp users forwarding a luring message to friends in return for supposed free air time or vouchers, or access to a list of people due to be paid money.

See also: No, you won't get '50 GB of Internet Data' for sending WhatsApps to your contacts

Researchers have also found that WhatsApp has a significant child pornography problem, and in Brazil the platform was used to spread political misinformation.

The now-global limit of five forwards is by way of an app update that is expected to roll out on Android devices first.

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