WhatsApp is dramatically cutting message forwarding after viral fake news led to lynchings

WhatsApp is dramatically cutting message forwarding after viral fake news led to lynchings

Narendra Modi Mark Zuckerberg India

Stephen Lam/Reuters

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

  • WhatsApp is trying to make it harder for people to spread fake news.
  • It's limiting people's ability to forward messages to more than 20 people at a time.
  • Indian users can only forward messages to five people at a time.
  • The Indian government has said WhatsApp users forwarding fake news to big groups of people led to a spate of lynchings.

WhatsApp is dramatically limiting the ability for people to forward messages after the Indian government blamed fake news going viral via messages for a recent spate of mob violence.

The change means it'll be much harder for people to forward messages - including fake news - to lots of contacts at once. Now users around the world will only be able to forward messages to 20 people at once.

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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. The previous forwarding limit was 250.

WhatsApp explained the changes in a blog post on Thursday. The company said: "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."


The company will also end the "quick forward" function in India, which allowed users to quickly forward on videos and photos.

The use of WhatsApp to spread fake news is an extremely serious issue in India. Recently, 30 people were arrested after a 2,000-person mob became incensed by WhatsApp rumours of a child kidnapping and lynched a man.

The Indian government threatened to take legal action against WhatsApp after this and a string of other lynchings. There have reportedly been at least 20 lynchings in the past two months caused by child abduction allegations, according to The Guardian. There have been similar issues in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

WhatsApp's own privacy functionality, end-to-end encryption, means the company can't actually track who is spreading fake news or how. That suggests there won't be a full crackdown any time soon.

And WhatsApp's parent company, Facebook, is reluctant to police speech on any of its platforms. In a recent interview with Recode, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company wouldn't theoretically ban Holocaust deniers because they weren't "intentionally" getting it wrong and because people deserved a voice.


Facebook is, however, going to start pulling down fake news if it incites violence. The strategy was outlined this week and will involve Facebook working with outside organisations to determine if false information is potentially dangerous. It will initially be rolled out in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.