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.
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Cooch Behar (WB), May 13: West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar was on Thursday shown black flags at Sitalkuchi, where four villagers died after firing by central forces during the elections, while "go back" slogans were raised at Dinhata during his visit to Cooch Behar district to meet people allegedly affected in post poll violence.
Earlier in the day, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar who is on a controversial visit to assess post-poll violence in the district said he was shocked by incidents of attacks following the West Bengal assembly elections.
"The country is facing a COVID crisis, and West Bengal is facing twin challenges of the pandemic and unprecedented post-poll violence only (as) some people decided to vote as per their own choice," he said.
The run up to the visit was marked by a war of words between the Governor and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with the chief minister writing a letter on Wednesday claiming the visit violated established norms as it was being undertaken unilaterally without consultations with the state government.
She also claimed the Governor was by-passing the state council of ministers and dictating directly to state officials, which was violative of the constitution.
An agitated Dhankhar came out of his car at Dinhata and reprimanded police officials for allegedly not acting to prevent slogan-shouting protesters, who numbered around 15 and had assembled with posters saying "BJP's governor go back".
"I am shocked, this is total collapse of rule of law, I could never imagine such a thing could happen," he told reporters.
Police officials chased the protesters away from the spot.
"I have seen fear in the eyes of people and they are afraid to go to the police station to file complaints," Dhankhar said about his interaction with people in post-poll hit villages.
The Governor visited Mathabhanga, Sitalkuchi, Sitai and Dinhata and talked to people who claimed to have suffered attacks at the hands of ruling Trinamool Congress supporters after election results were announced on May 2.
Dhankhar, who visited several households at the four places, said "homes have been looted and even ornaments kept for girl's marriage, utensils and other items for 'shradh' were taken away."
The governor was also shown black flags by some persons at Golokganj when his convoy travelled from Mathabhanga to Sitalkuchi, as a posse of policemen put up human walls to prevent protesters from coming down on to the road.
Posters and placards criticising the visit of the governor were also seen at Jorpatki in Sitalkuchi, the scene of firing by central armed police force personnel that killed four persons on April 10 during the fourth phase of polling in the West Bengal assembly elections.
"History will judge Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister. History will also judge Jagdeep Dhankhar, the governor, and it will judge the bureaucracy and the media," Dhankar said, interacting with the media.
Claiming that he did not get any response from the state government despite efforts being made to get information about the post-poll violence, Dhankhar said the state government must provide him with required information under Article 167 of the Constitution.
The Governor pointed out that "during elections, she (the chief minister) had publicly said the central armed police force will not be there always and she will see after that.
"This kind of challenge and behaviour is not acceptable under the constitution," he added.
BJP MP Nisith Pramanik accompanied the governor during his visit to the areas, where the saffron party has alleged loot and attack on its workers.
Some women wailed and fell to the feet of the governor claiming that all their belongings were looted and that the men of their families had fled their homes to escape attacks.
Reacting to the visit, veteran TMC MP and party spokesperson Sougata Ray said "He (Dhankhar) did not listen to the state government and went to Cooch Behar. He went there in the company of a BJP leader. His conduct is unconstitutional".
"Previously we had written a letter to the president against this governor. If the CM says, we will send another letter against him to the president," Ray said.
The TMC in December last year had written to President Ram Nath Kovind seeking to remove Jagdeep Dhankhar from the post of governor, accusing him of "transgressing constitutional limits" by regularly commenting against the state administration in public.
Terming the Governors conduct as unbecoming, senior TMC leader and minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay added "the governor is doing politics over stray post-poll incidents, (to contain) which the state government has taken all necessary steps. He is doing politics when the state is busy fighting the pandemic. We wish that the governor and the state government work together to fight the Covid situation.
The governor said he will on Friday visit camps in Assam where BJP workers, who reportedly fled from West Bengal owing to the post-poll violence, have been staying.