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WhatsApp limits forwarding messages over viral coronavirus misinformation

WhatsApp has implemented restrictions to forwarding viral messages [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 April, 2020

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In an effort to crack down on the virality of COVID-19 misinformation, WhatsApp announced restrictions on its forwarding feature.
WhatsApp on Tuesday announced it would set limits on forwarding messages in an effort to contain the spread of misinformation surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under WhatsApp's new constraints, a user who has received a message that has been forwarded frequently will only be able to forward it to one chat at a time.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, reported a significant increase in forwarding messages, which it said "can contribute to the spread of misinformation".

"We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation," the company said in a statement.

WhatsApp also announced a collaboration with NGOs and governments, including the World Health Organization (WHO), to directly send accurate information and advice to the platform's users.

Last month, WhatsApp launched a WHO chat bot that users can request information from.

Both WhatsApp and Facebook have rushed to improve their platforms during the pandemic, as they have come under continuous criticism for enabling fake news and disinformation campaigns in various global contexts.

Read more: Comment: Coronavirus exposes information crisis and digital inequality in the Arab world

However, not all digital rights advocates were swayed by WhatsApp's latest decision.

Mohamad Najem, executive director of Lebanese digital rights NGO Social Media Exchange (SMEX), believes WhatsApp's move runs the risk of limiting the free flow of information.

"They are definitely trying to find solution to the problem, but misinformation is not only a technical solution, but more societal," Najem told The New Arab. "If someone wants to spread misinformation, they will definitely find a way." 

"The best way to fight misinformation is to provide accurate information," he said, adding that efforts such as the WHO chat bot are better suited for the purpose.

The MENA region has been rife with false social media narratives surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic.

These include a widespread Twitter campaign that claimed Qatar plotted the pandemic and a Kuwaiti inlfuencer's promotion of a fake coronavirus testing kit on Snapchat.

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