Facebook Inc.'s WhatsApp tightened message forwarding limits on Tuesday, restricting users to sharing chat for chat after a surge in messages promoting fake medical advice since the onset of the coronavirus crisis.
The pandemic, which killed more than 70,000 people worldwide, was accompanied by misinformation, termed an "infodemic" by the World Health Organization (WHO), which prompted governments and other agencies to urge social media companies to do more to tackle the problem.
WhatsApp, which has more than 2 billion users worldwide, said in a blog post it made the change after seeing a "significant increase" in the number of forwards since the onset of the coronavirus crisis.
"We believe it is important to slow down the spread of these messages so WhatsApp remains a place for personal conversations," the statement said.
A WhatsApp spokesman said the new limit was in effect indefinitely.
The service has gradually restricted news routing since 2018 after viral rumors on its platform sparked a wave of mass strikes and deaths in India.
Since last year, users have been able to forward a message from an earlier limit of 20 to only five people or groups at a time. The app also flagged all messages that were forwarded more than five times.
Facebook and Twitter have responded to the flood of inaccurate medical information in recent months by prohibiting users from posting misleading information about the coronavirus, including refusing to provide professional guidance and promoting counterfeit treatments.
However, direct moderation of content is not possible in WhatsApp. Chats are protected by end-to-end encryption, which even prevents the app itself from displaying content shared by users.
In this way, groups of hundreds of people can exchange texts, photos and videos without being able to monitor the origin or scope of the messages.
WhatsApp said in its blog post that previous forwarding thresholds have resulted in a 25% drop in such messages.
The app also encourages people to report suspicious content to fact-checking organizations and has enabled WHO and national health authorities to use automated accounts to share reliable information about the new coronavirus in service.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)