Security Experts:

WhatsApp Fights Fake News With Message Forwarding Limit

WhatsApp, the popular messaging application that has roughly 1.5 billion users, now only allows messages to be forwarded to a maximum of 5 people in an effort to block attempts to abuse the platform for spreading false information.

At one point, users could forward a single message to over 250 people. However, following several violent incidents triggered by false information distributed via the messaging app, the Facebook-owned company limited the number of times a message could be forwarded to 20.

Since July, WhatsApp has been testing the five limit in India, where many of the violent incidents involving the messaging application occured, and it has now rolled out the restriction worldwide.

It’s worth noting that users can still forward a message to more than five users via groups, which can have up to 256 members.

“WhatsApp carefully evaluated this test and listened to user feedback over a six-month period. The forward limit significantly reduced forwarded messages around the world,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told SecurityWeek. “Starting today, all users on the latest versions of WhatsApp can now forward to only five chats at once, which will help keep WhatsApp focused on private messaging with close contacts. We'll continue to listen to user feedback about their experience, and over time, look for new ways of addressing viral content.”

According to the company, during the test period in India, it saw a 25% reduction in forwarded messages.

WhatsApp representatives told Reuters on Monday that the measures are part of its efforts to combat “misinformation and rumors.”

The company said the new forwarding limit will be rolled out with the latest update, which it started releasing on Monday, first to Android and then to iOS devices.

WhatsApp has often been used to spread manipulated photographs and videos, fake news, and other types of false information. Many people prefer the platform due to its security and privacy features, including end-to-end encryption.

In some countries, such as India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Brazil, messages exchanged and distributed via WhatsApp have led to violent incidents and scandals.

Despite offering relatively good security and privacy, some concerns have been raised, particularly in Europe, regarding WhatsApp’s handling of personal data.

*Updated with statement and additional information from WhatsApp

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.