Many things about the COVID-19 coronavirus still remain a mystery even for doctors and scientists, let alone ordinary people. During such times of fear and uncertainty, there is no shortage of incomplete or downright misleading information being passed around disguised as truth. Today’s messaging technologies have made it all too easy to spread such misinformation. WhatsApp, which was already in hot water for such cases, is now putting some hard limits when forwarding messages due to the COVID-19 situation.
It’s too easy to forward a message these days thanks to the magic of technology and the Internet. Given forwarded messages aren’t exactly traceable to their origins, people simply take it at face value given it may be from a contact they trust. Unfortunately for WhatsApp, that has lead to mass forwarding of messages that in at least one instance has led to violence.
The social messaging platform now owned by Google has taken steps to mitigate that effect. It started by clearly labeling messages that have been forwarded already numerous times, clearly showing it did not originally come from a close contact. It then put limits on how much you can forward at a time, allowing a single message to only be forwarded to 5 contacts at a time.
Now it is putting even more restrictions in light of the potential to spread COVID-19 misinformation. When you receive a message that has already been passed multiple times, you can now only pass that message to one contact at a time. You can, of course, still forward the message again and again but it will be more difficult to do so now.
WhatsApp hopes that the friction will make people stop and think before forwarding what could be false information. Human history, however, might not offer that much hope in that regard but it’s still better than doing nothing at all.