Too little too late? WhatsApp is taking back control by limiting message forwarding

Last year was as eventful as it gets. We had hotly-contested general elections, followed by a deeply divisive repeat presidential poll after a precedent-setting annulment of the presidential elections conducted on August 8th, 2017. Before we even got there, the campaign season already had some of us maxing our Google Drive storage because… WhatsApp.

See, while it’s convenient to want to always have your chats backed up in the cloud just in case the unfortunate happens – you and your phone are parted – last year, it wasn’t the most ideal thing to do. This is because you’d end up with a few hundred megabytes of data each day thanks to the various media content being shared depending on who the people you associate with are.

See, WhatsApp is a kind of necessary evil. For many of us, it is a point of convergence for all the communication we have with colleagues, friends and other random strangers with whom we have shared interests. It is not common to find that residents of a particular estate all belong to one WhatsApp group. Or parents at a school are in another WhatsApp group. Heck, it’s why WhatsApp has introduced certain features recently.

Unfortunately, common sense is not common to, well, all. In instances like last year’s electioneering season when propaganda was rife, WhatsApp was one of the most effective tools. How? Forwards. “Sent as received” is a common reference to this tragedy where people just send to the next person whatever it is that they receive without ascertaining whether it’s true or of value to the people they’re sharing it with. It’s like the Mexican wave at a football stadium. Everyone just goes with the flow.

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And the problem here is that unlike platforms like Twitter that are very public, WhatsApp is a private messaging application and, unless you have someone’s number or are in the same group, it’s impossible to penetrate their circles. Worse off, be called out for it, which is not the case on Twitter where corrections can be made. Unless there are responsible members in a group or a message recipient knows better, disinformation takes root.

The menace is not just limited to naive, probably first-time internet users, as we would all want to believe or assume. It cuts across. I have, over the last one year, witnessed people I hold a lot of respect for professionally, lead the pack when it comes to sharing alarmist updates in groups we happen to be in. People who, on any given day, you’d expect to be the first to stop and verify before sharing because in addition to knowing better than most of us, they actually have easy access to the subjects of the fake news they are spreading. Only that they don’t.

As such, WhatsApp has become a big source of disinformation in an era of “alternative” everything. The people behind the app know that so well and are bent on righting all these wrongs.

“Today, we’re launching a test to limit forwarding that will apply to everyone using WhatsApp. In India – where people forward more messages, photos, and videos than any other country in the world – we’ll also test a lower limit of 5 chats at once and we’ll remove the quick forward button next to media messages,” reads an update on the WhatsApp blog.

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TechCrunch reports that initially, message forwarding will be limited to 20 chats for users all over the world with the exception being WhatsApp’s largest market, India. However, depending on how the tests in India go, the same may eventually apply to all users globally.

Yours truly won’t be concerned as much whichever way things go as I just found out that such a feature has been there all along when going through WhatsApp’s announcement of these changes today. I’ve never had any use for it.

What I am more concerned about losing, however, is the quick forward option for media shared in WhatsApp. The feature is reportedly being removed in India. It’s come in handy a lot more recently for work purposes and I am dreading having to go back to the days of attaching images every other time I want to share the same thing to several of my colleagues. We’re all just trying to run away from email and now our world is about to be turned upside down again because of spammers and fake news spreaders. Sigh. Now may be a good time to make the case for Telegram, once again.

Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at]

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