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“My friend’s friend works for the NHS…” − WhatsApp is making it a bit less easy to spread coronavirus lies

WhatsApp has announced a new measure to combat the spread of misinformation on its platform. From now on, you’ll only be able to forward “frequently forwarded messages” to one conversation at a time. It’s more of a case of slowing the spread of misinformation, than stopping it altogether.

Frequently forwarded messages are messages that have been forwarded five times or more, and they’re denoted by a double arrow. Messages that have been forwarded fewer than five times, meanwhile, are labelled with a single arrow.

“In effect, [frequently forwarded messages] are less personal compared to typical messages sent on WhatsApp. We are now introducing a limit so that these messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time,” WhatsApp wrote in a blog post this morning.

There have been numerous instances of misinformation spread via the platforms of WhatsApp and parent company Facebook having horrific consequences in the real world.

In November 2018, Facebook admitted that it “[wasn’t] doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence” in Myanmar, where the company’s platforms had been used to spread fake news that helped fuel horrific violence against the country’s Rohingya Muslims. The campaign was described as “ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations.

In the UK at present, coronavirus and 5G are the themes of the day.

I myself have received several frequently forwarded WhatsApp messages from friends and family members over the past few weeks, the contents of which are false, but designed to increase panic.

Some of these messages are more convincing than others, and they often begin with a variation of “This is from a NHS worker…”, or “A friend who works in parliament just told me…”.

Related: 5G conspiracy theorists have been setting fire to the wrong masts

“Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not. We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful,” WhatsApp’s blog post continues.

“In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organize public moments of support for frontline health workers.

“However, 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. We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”

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