WhatsApp is changing its rules about forwarding messages - here's why

Wednesday, 8th April 2020, 12:59 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th April 2020, 1:07 pm

WhatsApp has introduced stricter limits on the number of times a message can be simultaneously forwarded on to other users.

The Facebook-owned chat app has announced users will now only be able to pass on a frequently-forwarded message to one chat at a time.

What counts as a frequently forwarded message?

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The app registers when a message has been sent in a forwarding chain of more than five chats.

If a user receives a forwarded message that has passed this threshold, that user will then only be able to forward this message on to one chat at a time.

Why has Whatsapp introduced the limits?

The decision aims to slow the spread of the most sensationalist content shared on the platform, in particular misinformation about coronavirus.

One such viral false report that quickly spread through the messaging app was the news that coronavirus was linked to 5G.

In the past week, more than 20 phone masts have been vandalised as a result of the conspiracy theory.

In a blogpost about the new limit, a WhatsApp spokesperson wrote, “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 to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”

What were the previous limits?

Before the new measures were introduced, a single message could be forwarded by an individual to 256 people at a time.

The app initially began the five-at-a-time limit in India in 2019, spurred on by a spate of mob attacks that saw 24 people killed by July 2018, after false information was spread on the app across the country at the start of that year.

In July 2019 the messaging service limited the number of forwards to 20 at a time in the rest of the world, later reducing that number to five, in a move that WhatsApp claimed successfully reduced message forwarding by 25 per cent worldwide.

Is there a way to bypass Whatsapp’s forward limit?

There is not currently an option to turn this limit off.

However, there is no limit on how many times a message can be individually forwarded.

This means you can simply continue to forward the message onto other users en masse, by repeatedly sending the message as many times as you like.

Does the limit affect group chats?

One of Whatsapp’s most popular features - the group chat - can still expose a huge number of users to widespread misinformation, even with these new forwarding limits in place.

The number of users who can join a group chat is limited to 256, meaning that a frequently-forwarded message can still be sent to this amount of users in one go.

Forwarding has its benefits

While the company has introduced these new measures, it acknowledges that not all widely shared content is dangerous.

“We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes and reflections or prayers they find meaningful. In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organise public moments of support for frontline health workers.”