WhatsApp has become the latest tech company to restrict its service during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, while companies like Microsoft has reduced services to cope with the strain of users, WhatsApp has another reason.
The Facebook-owned app announced this week it has restricted allowing users to forward message with “double arrows”. Specifically, users will be limited to one of these forwarded messages per chat. WhatsApp says the decision was taken to curb misinformation surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.
Misinformation has become common around the pandemic, causing confusion amongst people. WhatsApp debuted the double arrows feature back in 2019. It allows users to know which messages have come from third-party sources and have been shared many times.
However, these messages also allowed people to quickly pass on viral messages. WhatsApp says in the current situation, the feature is being used to spread misinformation. So, double arrow messages are now restricted to one per chat.
“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…
Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not. 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 organize public moments of support for frontline health workers. However, 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 down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”
Recent Chatbot and Facebook Action
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has been focused on ensuring authentic information is used. In March, the company rolled out a chatbot that answers questions related to coronavirus. The bot was created in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO).
In February, Facebook took early action to clamp down on misinformation around coronavirus. Facebook said it will make a more asserted effort to ensure fake news is removed from the site. Speaking to Business Insider, the company said the following:
“We recently implemented a policy to prohibit ads that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency, like implying a limited supply, or guaranteeing a cure or prevention. We also have policies for surfaces like Marketplace that prohibit similar behaviour.”