The past few months have seen messaging apps become all the more important as we try to deal with physical distancing from loved ones, colleagues, and basically everyone. But it can also be a source of viral misinformation and the wildfire spread of conspiracy theories. WhatsApp has previously added some forwarding limits to slow down the mass forwarding of messages in chat groups. Facebook is now doing the same with their other product, Messenger. Starting now, people can only forward to five people or groups at a time.
Facebook believes that imposing limits on forwarding messages will help slow people down as it will now be more difficult and inconvenient to mass-forward messages. It will still not stop them if they’re determined of course but at least it will make it less easy to do so. Viral misinformation and harmful content have been making the rounds these past few months but they’re no longer just harmless content you forward and some of them have the potential to cause real-world harm.
It’s been a visible struggle for companies like Facebook and Twitter to contain the spread of misinformation in light of the ongoing global pandemic. The very nature of social media platforms can make it difficult to contain these viral content. Facebook has been highly criticized with their lack of controls or moderation and they’ve been walking a tricky line between control and freedom of expression on their platform. They’ve recently added new privacy controls and they’ve also said they’ll stop accepting political ads a week before the U.S presidential elections in November.
Facebook also highlighted their Coronavirus Community Hub and their Voting Information Center as sources of verified and factual information regarding COVID-19 and also elections in users’ respective countries. Of course, having these hubs are important but people who are prone to believing and forwarding misinformation and conspiracy theories will probably not be going to these sections to read up on actual, true information. So the forwarding limit is one way to slow down the spread of these things.
If you’re one of those that are annoyed with these forwarded messages anyway, this will hopefully stop the flood in your inbox and let you have actual conversations with people you want to talk to. Don’t forget also to take a look at the privacy controls you have so you can block and report unwanted messages.