Popular messaging app WhatsApp on Friday announced that it will limit forwarding of messages to five chats at once in India to check the misuse of its platform at a time when rumours and fake news spread on the app has led to several killings in its largest market.
The Facebook-owned application will also delete the quick forward button placed next to media messages. The steps are aimed at discouraging mass forwards in India, a country that WhatsApp says forwards more messages, photographs and videos than any other. "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 said in a statement.
The firm is also testing the feature globally, though it did not reveal what the limit on forwarded messages would be elsewhere. In India, where it has 200 million users, they will be limited to five chats among individuals and groups, it said in its blogpost.
"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," it added.
The development comes a day after the government shot off yet another letter to the company asking it to introduce stringent steps to curb the fake news menace. In Thursday's letter, the IT Ministry asked WhatsApp for more effective solutions than just labeling of forwards to help users make the distinction between personally crafted messages and mass forwards.
The firm introduced the feature three weeks ago following the government's first letter asking WhatsApp to act in the face of fake news and false information circulated on its messaging platform that have incited mob-fury, triggering multiple cases of lynching across the country.
Under pressure, the firm also brought full-page advertisements with tips on how to spot misinformation. But it informed the Centre that fake news, misinformation and hoaxes can be checked by the government, civil society and technology companies working together.
The government's more strongly worded second letter directed WhatsApp to come up with solutions that can bring in accountability, facilitate enforcement of law and bring in traceability when a provocative or inflammatory message is detected.
"WhatsApp has been told the issue is very serious and deserves a more sensitive response," it added. It also warned the company that mediums used for propagation of rumours are liable to be treated as 'abettors' and can face legal consequences if they remain mute spectators.
Recently, a man was beaten to death, while three others were injured after a mob attacked them suspecting them to be childlifters, near Bidar in Karnataka. Earlier, rumours on WhatsApp sparked off a mob fury where five men were lynched on the suspicion of being child lifters in Maharashtra's Rainpada village of Dhule district.
The Supreme Court, earlier this week, asked Parliament to consider enacting a new law to effectively deal with incidents of mob lynching, saying horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be allowed to become a new norm.