WhatsApp rolls out changes to curb spread of misinformation

WhatsApp rolls out changes to curb spread of misinformation
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The Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp this week rolled out changes to curb the spread of misinformation, a move that comes months after conspiracy theories circulated by users on the app allegedly fueled more than 20 murders in India. 

WhatsApp in a blog post wrote that starting on Monday, users will be able to forward messages to only five people at a time rather than hundreds, a limit intended to clamp down on the unabated dissemination of false information.

The messaging limit, which was piloted in India starting six months ago, will now expand to the more than 1 billion WhatsApp users around the world, the company wrote.

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"WhatsApp carefully evaluated this test and listened to user feedback over a six-month period," WhatsApp wrote in the post, referring to the five-contact messaging limit piloted in India. "The forward limit significantly reduced forwarded messages around the world."

Users on WhatsApp have previously spread a number of conspiracy theories and rumors by forwarding disinformation to the maximum number of people possible. According to WhatsApp, the new limit will keep users "focused on private messaging with close contacts." 

The rollout began on Monday with Android users and it will reach iOS later, tech outlet Engadget reported.

WhatsApp briefly crashed for users around the world on Tuesday, but the company told The Hill that the crash was unrelated to the messaging limit rollout. The WhatsApp outage reportedly lasted for about 10 minutes.

“Earlier today, WhatsApp users experienced issues with accessing the app and sending messaging," a WhatsApp spokesperson told The Hill. "The issue was resolved within a few minutes."

WhatsApp, which was acquired by Facebook in 2014, poses unique problems when it comes to the spread of misinformation because its messages are encrypted, meaning WhatsApp is unable to investigate where they originate. 

Viral rumors spread through WhatsApp have been linked to violence on multiple occasions. Two people in Mexico were beaten and burned to death following kidnapping rumors that circulated on the app last year, and more than 20 people in India were killed by mobs after manipulated footage made its way around the messaging service. 

Sri Lanka temporarily shut down WhatsApp, as well as other social media apps, in March as reports emerged that they were being used to stoke violence against the country's Muslim minority.