WhatsApp has officially announced that 200 million-plus account holders in India will now only be allowed to forward a message a maximum of five times. The Facebook-owned company had announced this feature last month. This move comes under pressure from the Indian government to cut out fake news.
“The limit has started to appear this week for people in India who are on the current version of WhatsApp,” the company said in a statement. They will also be releasing a video explaining how to spot fake news. “WhatsApp is publishing a new video that explains the importance of the ‘forward’ label and calls users to ‘double check the facts when you’re not sure who created the original message,'” the statement continued.
Globally, users are allowed up to 20 forwards. However, Indians are the most prolific users and forwarders of messages on the app. Very often, these forwards have included less than accurate information, and the app has often been used as a substitute for official media sources across the country.
Media reports over the last week have reported that the Department of Telecommunications asked various internet service providers (ISPs) if there was a way to ban specific mobile applications in for a period of time. In particular, they were looking to ban social media apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram that are used to help people communicate and congregate online.
In response, the Cellular Operators of India – an industry body representing some of the above mentioned ISPs – stated that the government should be looking for “more effective” ways to curb unwanted activities on the specified apps and maintain public order.
This furore over WhatsApp messaging has increased over the last few months as the consequences of such forwards have become deadly. On July 1, five people were reportedly lynched in Dhule, Maharashtra because a WhatsApp forward had mentioned that they had abducted children. Multiple similar incidents have occurred since.