Yesterday, Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp decided to put a global limit on the number of times a user can forward a message, as per Reuters’ report. Users will now be blocked from forwarding messages to more than five individuals or groups, according to new rules set by Whatsapp worldwide, in order to fight the spread of fake news and misinformation. Victoria Grand, Facebook’s Global Head for policy programs, announced the policy at an event in Jakarta, yesterday. With 1.5 billion users on the platform, the concern is that Whatsapp forwards could be used to spread fake news via manipulated texts, photos, videos, and audio hoaxes.
Initially, users could forward a message to 20 individuals or groups on WhatsApp. After the spread of rumors on social media in July which led to killings and lynching attempts in India, the new policy has been put in place to fight against such fake news on social media.
Facebook has previously been used by bad foreign actors to manipulate U.S. elections. Last October, WhatsApp caused trouble in Brazil’s presidential election, wherein, Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right candidate, faced claims of using WhatsApp for spreading falsehoods related to his opponent. It’s a matter of concern, how such platforms are influencing the political scenario.
In a statement to the Guardian, Carl Woog, the head of communications at WhatsApp, said, “We settled on five because we believe this is a reasonable number to reach close friends while helping prevent abuse.”
A forwarded text is marked in a light grey color which otherwise is much similar to other messages. This means that the segregation done by the team at WhatsApp doesn’t really solve the purpose. According to few critics, “The design strips away the identity of the sender and allows messages to spread virally with little accountability.”
WhatsApp took few steps to over the challenges introduced few measures. Last year, the company introduced a feature to label forwarded messages and for removal of a quick-forward button next to images, video and audio clips. According to the report by The Guardian, these measures reduced forwarding by 25% globally and more than that in India, which has one of the highest forwarding rates in the world.
Users have raised questions with regards to this news. With the biggest question being, if the fake news gets shared by simply copy-pasting the text, then how will it get monitored in such cases. Few users think that the limit of 5 is still too much and they recommend 2 instead. The idea behind this policy doesn’t look much relevant because a group can have up to 256 users in it.f I the message is forwarded to 5 groups then it is equivalent to sending it to atmost 1,280 users. This is surely not slowing the spread of fake news. One of the users commented, “You can still fwd to 5*256 people.”
Others suggest having a blacklist. A comment on Hacker news reads, “You can have a blacklist of message texts that are sent to the apps as hashes.”
According to some users, this is a good step taken by the team at Facebook. One of the comments read, “It seems like a valid and useful way to slow the rate of propagation of fake news. Much of the current problem is that fake news spreads faster than moderators can make a decision on it, or journalists can fact-check it. If you can keep it in a “slow burn” phase longer, where it’s being forwarded along to a handful of people at a time, it’s easier to combat.”
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