In an effort to curb the rapid spread of misinformation during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, instant messaging service WhatsApp has decided to limit the forwarding of frequently forwarded messages to one chat at a time.
Messages forwarded many times are marked with double arrows “to indicate they did not originate from a close contact”, a feature introduced last year, said WhatsApp in a statement on Tue (7 Apr).
The instant messaging service said that its previous implementation of a restriction on such forwarded messages has led to a 25 per cent decrease in the forwarding of such messages at the time.
WhatsApp said that while it acknowledges that not all forwarding is bad, given that “many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful”, many people have also been using the app to spread misinformation.
“We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation,” the service added.
WhatsApp, owned by social media giant Facebook, also said that it will be collaborating with non-governmental organisations and governments — including the World Health Organization and over 20 national health ministries — to “help connect people with accurate information”.
“Together, these trusted authorities have sent hundreds of millions of messages directly to people requesting information and advice,” said WhatsApp.
Users can obtain more information on WhatsApp’s joint efforts with NGOs and governments on the instant messaging platform’s Coronavirus Information Hub.
Local media have previously reported instances regarding the COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore.
Among such instances were rumours stating that there have been people who are robbing residents under the guise of distributing reusable masks purportedly in line with the new Government initiative. This rumour — containing text and audio messages — was debunked by police last Sat.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was also made the subject of misinformation as he warned the people last week of an email impersonating him.
The email made a request for “contributions and thoughts” as Singapore tackles the spread of COVID-19. The matter has been reported to police, said Mr Lee.