New Delhi: WhatsApp will allow users to send frequently forwarded messages to only one chat at a time as part of efforts to curb spreading of misinformation amid the coronavirus pandemic.
This limit will be in place once a message has been previously forwarded five times or more.
The latest move comes as countries, including India, are initiating measures to tackle the spread of rumours, fake news and misinformation on social media platforms.
"We are now introducing a limit so that these messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time...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," the Facebook-owned WhatsApp said in its blog on Tuesday.
Last year, WhatsApp launched the 'forward' label with double arrows to indicate that the message did not originate from a close contact. It also limited message 'forwards' to five chats at a time.
Platforms like WhatsApp are being increasingly used by people amid lockdowns and social distancing measures to prevent the spreading of coronavirus infections.
The company said it believes it is important to slow the spread of these messages to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.
The company, which has over 400 million users in India, said its previous steps of setting limits on forwarded messages to constrain virality had led to a 25 per cent decrease in message forwards globally at a time.
With billions of people unable to see their friends and family in person due to COVID-19, people are relying on WhatsApp more than ever to communicate, WhatsApp stated.
"People are talking to doctors, teachers, and isolated loved ones via WhatsApp during this crisis. That's why all your messages and calls on WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted by default to give you a secure place for your most personal conversations," it added.
WhatsApp said that in addition, it is also engaging directly with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) 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," it added.
WhatsApp is also testing a feature that would display a small magnifying glass next to any frequently forwarded messages.
Users will then be able to click that and be taken to a web search for the message, with the intention of letting them find articles that may debunk the message or shed further light on any claims found within it -- and not forward them on if they find the message is not true.
In mid-March, even as many states had begun imposing curbs and movement restrictions to fight the spread of coronavirus pandemic, WhatsApp had rolled out 'Coronavirus Information Hub' to provide simple, actionable guidance for health workers, educators, community leaders, non-profit entities, local governments and local businesses that rely on WhatsApp to communicate.
Indian government's dedicated WhatsApp chatbot MyGov Corona Helpdesk, which aims to provide timely updates and help citizens clear their queries on COVID-19, has already garnered over 2 crore users.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 announced a complete lockdown of the entire country for 21 days in an unprecedented move to halt the spread of coronavirus, shortly after which the Centre said road, rail and air services will remain suspended during this period.
As on early Tuesday, the pandemic claimed 114 lives in the country and the number of cases increased to 4,421 in India.
In the past, WhatsApp has faced flak from the government after a series of mob-lynching incidents, triggered by rumours circulating on WhatsApp, claimed lives.
Under pressure to stop rumours and fake news, WhatsApp had then restricted forwarding messages to five chats at once as well as removed the quick forward button for media messages in India. This feature was later extended globally.
WhatsApp, as part of its efforts, has been running campaigns, offering tips to users on how to spot misinformation.
However, WhatsApp has so far, resisted the government's demand for identifying message originators, arguing that such a move would undermine the end-to-end encryption and the private nature of the platform, creating potential for serious misuse.
Let the Truth be known. If you read VB and like VB, please be a VB Supporter and Help us deliver the Truth to one and all.
Around June 1, a five-minute video of an interview of a woman recorded in the style of an exposé went viral. The woman appears to be an office-bearer and is sitting behind a desk. She says, “These people are terrorists and we are giving them VIP treatment… we are exhausting our resources on them, getting our doctors ill for them…we are using 100 test kits per day on them, if they didn’t exist we wouldn’t need the kits… these people should be hit and kept in solitary confinement… Can’t Yogi ji give an order that state’s resources won’t be used on them.. we are sacrificing Rs 100 crores of the nation for these 20 crores.” The population of Muslims in India is approximately 20 crores.
A mic with the logo of ‘News इंडिया 1’ can be seen in the video. The interviewers behind the camera are trying to gain an official statement from the woman for their news bulletin. As per social media claims, the woman being interviewed is Aarti Lalchandani, the principal of GVSM Medical College, Kanpur.
The social media claims are true. The person in the video is indeed Aarti Lalchandani, the principal of GVSM Medical College in Kanpur. On June 1, several media outlets published a report about the viral video including The Hindu and The Indian Express.
According to The Hindu, “Lalchandani first said that the video was “morphed” and that she did not refer to any community or target Muslims. But in the same breath, she also admitted that she made the comments as a vent during the initial days of the COVID-19 crisis in Kanpur.”
She told both the publications that the local journalist who leaked the video tried to blackmail her and extort administrative favors. However, speaking with Alt News, Lalchandani said that she wasn’t aware of the clip’s existence until it became viral on social media. It is unclear how she could possibly be blackmailed over something that wasn’t in her notice. Moreover, she was unable to provide any evidence of the same.
Omar Rashid, the journalist who wrote the report for The Hindu, tweeted that Lalchandani told the outlet that she had made the comments in anger.
The principal of Kanpur Medical College Arati Lalchandani allegedly calls Tablighi Jamaat members terrorists, says they should be sent to dungeons, jungles & solitary confinement rather than being treated in isolation wards. She told @the_hindu that she made the comment in anger pic.twitter.com/vfM2tVnTaV— Omar Rashid (@omar7rashid) May 31, 2020
In her statement that was sent over WhatsApp, Lalchandani wrote, “THESE ARE NOT MY STATEMENTS GIVEN TO MEDIA but a malicious sting and do not reflect my inner feelings.” She added, “Even a mother in her anger says go to hell to her own children. And then hugs them the next moment. My actions have always spoken louder than words and will continue to do so. I shall continue serving you all and you can always send to me anyone in need. I work 24 hours for you.”
It is pertinent to note that Lalchandani did not apologize for the racist comments.
Therefore the social media claim associated with the video is true. Aarti Lalchandani, the principal of GVSM Medical College in Kanpur, indeed made derogatory remarks against Tablighi Jamaat members and the Muslim community. She said the country should put them behind bars instead of spending money and resources for their treatment.
Here's her Facebook post: