Acting under the pretext of fighting misinformation, WhatsApp has since three years restricted the use of the share option for messages already redistributed by others, within three contact groups simultaneously. But even so, well-motivated actors managed to continue their activity with the help of post office “farms”, using the same account to spread misinformation on multiple WhatsApp channels.
Acting first in Brazil, the platform’s administrators restricted the option to redistribute messages only to subscribers of the same WhatsApp channel. It now appears that the limitation will apply globally, with one important exception. Thus, if you are the author of the original post, then you will be able to distribute it to any number of users
In its current form, WhatsApp only marks messages that have been redistributed more than four times with a special tag, informing their readers that they are dealing with viral and potentially misleading content. Of course, for the audience frequently targeted by these campaigns, the attempt to highlight a potential misinformation does not mean much, as the label is simply ignored or, worse, reinforces the beliefs in conspiracy theories.
Even distributed on a single WhatsApp channel, a malicious post can still go viral and be picked up and redistributed by other users. In this case, if the automatic filters identify certain posts as being in the fake news category, the message can only be forwarded manually for each user. Thus, WhatsApp limits the speed with which information can flow.
WhatsApp’s argument is that by slowing down widely distributed posts, both fake and real information have the chance to circulate at the same speed, effectively discouraging the use of the messaging platform as a tool for mass misinformation.