WhatsApp to limit message forwarding to 5 chats for India users

"We're horrified by the violence in India, and we've announced number of different product changes to help address these issues", a WhatsApp spokesperson said.

In India, where viral fake news on WhatsApp has been blamed for increased mob lynchings, people will only be able to forward messages to five people at once. According to WhatsApp, people in India forward more messages, photos and videos than any other country in the world, which is the reason why WhatsApp is facing some backlash from the Indian government as the spam and misinformation spreads very quickly.

The ministry also called on WhatsApp to enable the "traceability" of messages when an official request is made. "When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischief mongers, the medium used for such propagation can not evade responsibility and accountability", the government said, adding, "If they remain mute spectators, they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action". For 2019, WhatsApp will also bring in a fake news verification model it recently used in Mexican general elections to India.

The change means it'll be much harder for people to forward messages - including fake news - to lots of contacts at once. WhatsApp wants to limit the number of chats for a forwarded message. "If they remain mute spectators they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action", the ministry said in a statement.

The latest attack last week, in which one man was killed and three others were seriously injured, prompted the government to send its second warning to WhatsApp in less than a month.

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"This change is going to make it hard for people to forward messages, it's going to add a layer of friction to the process", said Nikhil Pahwa, a co-founder of advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation.

Besides, the quick forward option will be also removed.

Facebook Inc's WhatsApp is launching a test to limit forwarding messages that will apply to all users, the messaging app said on Thursday, after a series of violent incidents in India triggered by false social media messages. The previous forwarding cap, rarely hit by users, was more than 250.

Officials from WhatsApp's USA office are in India this week to meet with digital literacy organizations and civil society leaders to discuss the spate of violence that has prompted calls for control the spread of viral content on the app.

Outlining steps it has taken to curb abuse of its platform, WhatsApp - in its response to the first notice sent by the IT Ministry - had said that it has the ability to prevent spam but since it cannot see the content of private messages, blocking can be done only based on user reports.

  • Sonia Alvarado