Facebook’s WhatsApp limits message forwarding to fight spread of fake news

WhatsApp limits forwarding recipients, Berlin, Germany - 31 Dec 2017
Under WhatsApp’s new restriction, a message can be forwarded to only five recipients at a time.
(Hayoung Jeon / EPA/Shutterstock)

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging service has begun to globally restrict the number of people a message can be forwarded to, in an attempt to fight fake and misleading information from going viral on the platform.

The app tested limited forwarding in India last summer to a maximum of five recipients per forward, as rumors and fake videos spread rapidly on its network and led to deadly violence in the country.

“Starting today, WhatsApp will be implementing this change globally,” a spokeswoman said in a statement Monday. “This will help keep WhatsApp focused on private messaging with close contacts.”

With the change, a message can be forwarded to only five recipients at a time. The recipients can be individuals or groups.


WhatsApp said that the forwarding limit significantly reduced forwarded messages around the world, and that the company would continue to evaluate the effects of the change.

Facebook, WhatsApp’s parent, has been the subject of global scrutiny over its role in the spread of fake news and disinformation over the last year in particular. The social networking giant is under investigation in several countries for letting the data of millions of its users end up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm that worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Facebook faced particular criticism in Asia over whether it had done enough to combat the spread of violence in Myanmar. And in India its Free Basics, which offers a minimalist web for emerging markets, was banned for violating net neutrality. The government has threatened legal action if the company doesn’t do more to clean up the problems.

Get our weekly California Inc. newsletter