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Jan. 22, 2019, 10:54 a.m.
Audience & Social
LINK: www.reuters.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   January 22, 2019

WhatsApp’s forwarding feature allows users to forward messages from one group or chat to another group or chat. It’s a convenient way to spread text, links, and images quickly — and also, not surprisingly, a way that false information can spread fast.

Now the company is placing a limit on forwarded messages worldwide, expanding a six-month experiment that it began last year. That experiment had limited the number of chats that worldwide users could forward to to 20, and placed a lower limit on Indian users of five forwards. (In India, WhatsApp noted at the time, “people forward more messages, photos, and videos than any other country in the world.” Research conducted in the country late last year found that Indians get notifications as often as every 2 to 4 minutes — something that, so far, they are not complaining about. As of one year ago, the last time WhatsApp’s owner Facebook released an official stat, India had more than 200 million monthly active users.)

Now the five-forward limit is expanding to all of its (1.5 billion monthly as of a year ago) users. WhatsApp said in an update to a blog post on Monday:

WhatsApp carefully evaluated this test and listened to user feedback over a six-month period. The forward limit significantly reduced forwarded messages around the world. Starting today, all users on the latest versions of WhatsApp can now forward to only five chats at once, which will help keep WhatsApp focused on private messaging with close contacts. We’ll continue to listen to user feedback about their experience, and over time, look for new ways of addressing viral content.

“We settled on five because we believe this is a reasonable number to reach close friends while helping prevent abuse,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told The Guardian.

People who have studied WhatsApp and its role in elections had called for the restriction on forwards. On Tuesday, Brazilian professor and Folha columnist Pablo Ortellado, who has previously written about WhatsApp and the Brazilian election, called the change a “move in the right direction” and recommended that WhatsApp make further restrictions: Reducing (from 256) the number of people that a single person can send a message to, and limiting the size of groups.

Photo by Brazil’s Senado Federal used under a Creative Commons license.

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