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WhatsApp restricts spread of misinformation

April 7, 2020

The messaging app WhatsApp has moved to limit the increasing spread of misinformation through its platform. The WHO has identified an "infodemic" of false medical advice and conspiracy theories around COVID-19 online.

Mobile screen showing information on coronavirus
Image: DW/D. Dragojevic

Facebook's popular messaging service WhatsApp tightenend message forwarding limits on Tuesday to stop the spread of misinformation about the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The messaging app saw a jump in message forwarding since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Users will now be restricted to sharing content that has already been forwarded numerous times just one chat at a time. Until now, it has been possible to share information simultaneously in five chats.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified an "infodemic" of misinformation triggered by the pandemic. Governments around the world have urged social media companies to attempt to curb the spread of misinformation through tighter regulations.

"We believe it is important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation," the company said in a statement. WhatsApp has over two billion users worldwide.

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WhatsApp works with WHO

Misinformation that has been spread on WhatsApp often relates to miracle cures and so-called "treatments" to cure patients of COVID-19 and to conspiracy theories regarding government or private involvement in the outbreak. There is currently no cure for COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The new limits are in place indefinitely. WhatsApp already put some measures in place on message forwarding in 2018 after viral rumors on its platform led to mass beatings and violence in India.

However, WhatsApp cannot directly monitor content or stop misinformation from being spread altogether.

The app has enabled the WHO and national health authorities to share relevant facts about the pandemic to the population at large through automated accounts.

ed/ng (dpa, Reuters)

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