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WhatsApp to Limit Message Forwarding to Five Chats in India

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In a statement on Friday, Whatsapp said it is launching a test to limit forwarding on WhatsApp. "In India — where people forward more messages, photos, and videos, than any other country in the world

Under unrelenting pressure from the Indian government to effectively handle the menace of rumours and fake news on its platform, Whatsapp has announced another series of measures to curtail mass forwarding of messages, images and videos. 

In a statement on Friday, Whatsapp said it is launching a test to limit forwarding on WhatsApp. “In India — where people forward more messages, photos, and videos, than any other country in the world — we’ll also test a lower limit of five chats at once and we’ll remove the quick forward button next to media messages.” 

Whatsapp had added a feature to let people forward a message to multiple chats at once a few years ago. 

This comes after Whatsapp launched its forward label in India earlier this month to identify messages which are not original and have been forwarded. 

On Thursday, the Indian government has sent a second letter to Whatsapp asking for “more effective solutions” that can bring in “accountability and facilitate enforcement of law” in the wake of rising incidents of rumours on Whatsapp triggering lynching incidents in the country. 

Ministry of electronics and IT (MEITY) had sent out a stern warning to WhatsApp earlier this month also, asking the Facebook-owned messaging platform to immediately stop the spread of “irresponsible and explosive messages filled with rumours and provocation” on its platform. The messaging platform has responded to the government letter saying that it will use a mix of technology along with new features to identify forwarded messages and work with fact checkers and academia to address the issue.  

In a press statement, MEITY said that it has been conveyed to the company “in unmistakable terms” that it is a very serious issue which deserves a more sensitive response. 

“There is a need for bringing in traceability and accountability when a provocative or inflammatory message is detected and a request is made by law enforcement agencies. When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischief mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability.” It added that if they remain “mute spectators” they are liable to be treated as “abettors” and thereafter face consequent legal action. 

At least 31 people have been killed over the last one year in 10 states including Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra by crowds mobilised by rumours of spread over WhatsApp. The statement added that subsequently in Bidar a 32 year old software engineer Mohammed Azam was killed and this was preceded by viral circulation of rumours on Whatsapp about child lifters. “It is regretted that the enormity of the challenge and the rampant abuse happening in the country leading to repeated commissioning of crimes pursuant to rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on their platform have not been addressed adequately by Whatsapp.” 

Here’s WhatsApp’s full satement

More changes to forwarding
We built WhatsApp as a private messaging app – a simple, secure, and reliable way to communicate with friends and family. And as we’ve added new features, we’ve been careful to try and keep that feeling of intimacy, which people say they love. 

A few years back we added a feature to WhatsApp that lets you forward a message to multiple chats at once.

Today, we’re launching a test to limit forwarding that will apply to everyone using WhatsApp. In India – where people forward more messages, photos, and videos than any other country in the world – we’ll also test a lower limit of 5 chats at once and we’ll remove the quick forward button next to media messages. 

We believe that these changes – which we’ll continue to evaluate – will help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app.

We are deeply committed to your safety and privacy which is why WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, and we’ll continue to improve our app with features like this one.
 

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