WhatsApp in efforts to break the COVID-19 misinformation chain

COVID-19 is scary enough as it is, there is no need to turn people into garlic-breathing, pet-fearing, salt water gargling, vinegar fumigating, flower potion-imbibing chainsmokers, too

WhatsApp is clamping down on misinformation shared on its platform
WhatsApp is clamping down on misinformation shared on its platform

Ubiquitous messaging app WhatsApp has started to make it harder to share forwarded messages in an attempt to clamp down on coronavirus rumours and misinformation and not a moment too soon. 

Chances are that a well-meaning maiden aunt has sent you any number of “advice” posts quoting unnamed COVID-19 experts telling you to stay away from your pet dog, eat garlic, gargle with salt water, fumigate with vinegar, take a potion made from flowers, or smoke a lot to cure or ward off the virus. 

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to advance across the globe, there has been an exponential rise in the volume of false information and scams tied to news about the virus that is being shared, either maliciously or accidentally, via every type of social media, with big-tech companies scrambling to crack down on these types of abuse.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, has reported significant increases in the amount of message forwarding, which it said was leaving certain users overwhelmed and was contributing to the proliferation of misinformation.

In WhatsApp, messages which have been forwarded more than five times are already being marked with double arrows to indicate that it did not originate from a close contact of the user. Now, the company has said that it will only allow these frequently forwarded messages to be sent to one chat at a time by users, a measure intended to put the brakes on their spread.

But this is just the latest step WhatsApp has taken to address the speed at which messages can spread on its platform: in January 2019, the company had limited the forwarding of messages to five chats at once. WhatsApp said this measure had caused a 25% decrease in total message forwards worldwide.

In addition to this, the company also claims to ban around two million accounts per month for attempting to send automated or mass messages.

COVID-19 is scary enough as it is, there is no need to turn people into garlic-breathing, pet-fearing, salt water gargling, vinegar fumigating, flower potion-imbibing chainsmokers, too. So please, don’t forward without fact-checking first.

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