WhatsApp update will stop people forwarding too many messages in attempt to stop deadly hoaxes

Andrew Griffin
Revellers dressed up as dancers of 'Black Swan' check their mobile phones next to revellers dressed up as a Whatsapp logo as they take part in New Year's celebrations in Coin, near Malaga, southern Spain, early January 1, 2015: REUTERS/Jon Nazca

WhatsApp is making it harder to forward messages in an attempt to keep people safe.

Forwarding messages over WhatsApp has recently become a grave concern in India and other parts of the world, as hoaxes and rumours have spread quickly on WhatsApp. In some cases, those rumours have left people dead – with people being killed for being suspected of fake crimes that were reported over the app.

Now the company will make it harder to forward a message to many people at once, potentially spreading its reach or at least making it less easy to be shared without thinking. The app will limit the number of groups that one message can be sent onto in one go.

In most of the world, people will be limited to sending messages on to 20 groups. But in India – which is not only WhatsApp's biggest market but also the country where people use the forwarding tool most – that will be limited to five groups.

In India, the small forward button that appears next to media messages will be turned off, in an effort to make it harder to forward them.

WhatsApp had already made changes to the way that forwarded messages work. Until recently, such messages looked exactly like those that had been written by the user themselves – but they will now appear with a small message pointing out that they have been forwarded.

"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," WhatsApp wrote in its blog post. It reiterated that all communications on the app are end-to-end encrypted, meaning that they can't be read on their way over the network.

That feature has been hailed by security experts and WhatsApp itself as a way to stop people being spied on. But it has also become a source of contention amid the problems in India and elsewhere, as authorities argue it makes it difficult to track down the sources of the deadly false news and hoaxes.