WhatsApp limits message forwards to rein in fake news

WhatsApp messaging service has begun to globally restrict the number of people a message can be forwarded to, in an attempt to fight fake and misleading information from going viral on its platform.

The app tested limiting forwarding in India last summer, to five recipients or groups, as rumours and fake videos spread rapidly on its network that were subsequently linked to violence in the country.

"Starting today, WhatsApp will be implementing this change globally," a spokesperson said in a statement on Monday. "This will continue help keep WhatsApp focused on private messaging with close contacts."

WhatsApp said the forwarding limit significantly reduced forwarded messages around the world, and that it would continue to evaluate the effects of the changes.

The company’s parent, Facebook, has been the subject of global scrutiny over its role in the spread of fake news and disinformation over the past year in particular. The social network is under investigation in several countries for letting the data of millions of its users end up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm working on Donald Trump’s 2016 US presidential campaign.

Facebook faced particular criticism in Asia over whether it had done enough to combat the spread of violence in Myanmar. In India, its Free Basics, which offers a minimalist web for emerging markets, was also banned for violating net neutrality.

The government has threatened legal action if the company doesn’t do more to clean up the problems.