Whatsapp has implemented a limit on how many times users of the messaging app can forward messages. The limit, which has been rolled out globally, limits WhatsApp users to only be able to forward a message five times.

WhatsApp has come out saying that the limit is being implemented specifically to help cut down the spread of fake news (misinformation).

โ€œWeโ€™re imposing a limit of five messages all over the world as of today,โ€ Victoria Grand, vice president for policy and communications at WhatsApp, is reported to have said at an event in Indonesia on 21 January 2019.

Earlier in 2018 WhatsApp announced that it has enabled a feature to limit how many groups a message can be forwarded on to. This was, according to the messaging app at the time an effort to minimize the spread of fake news and spam.

However, both the announcement in 2018 and the most recent one announced in Indonesia raise some concerns.

WhatsApp privacy and security

The first issue is about privacy. WhatsApp has continually stated that all messages and calls are end-to-end encrypted.

โ€œWhatsApp cares deeply about the privacy of our users and all messages and calls remain end-to-end encrypted, which means WhatsApp cannot see the contents of private conversations. We have always taken a strong stand against spam of any kind, which is why weโ€™ve made it easy for users to report a problem to WhatsApp and we ban accounts engaging in spammy behavior.โ€ said a WhatsApp spokesperson to iAfrikan when we enquired about how do they know which messages contain spam and misinformation/fake news and which ones don't.

What's interesting, when you read WhatsApp's support documentation and FAQs, is that, in some cases, where a person in a group or in a one-on-one chat reports the group or another WhatsApp user, the messaging company (as stated in this post on the WhatsApp website) will receive the most recent messages from that group chat or one-on-one chat.

"When you receive a message from an unknown number for the first time, you'll have the option to report the number directly inside the chat. As always, this report sends the most recent messages in the chat to WhatsApp. You can also report a contact or a group from their profile information, "

This, in my humble opinion, despite explaining how perhaps WhatsApp is able to determine which messages are spam and misinformation, defeats the purpose of their stated end-to-end encryption as it allows anyone to report a chat (group too) to WhatsApp and reveals the messages in that chat (or group) to WhatsApp without the consent of everyone involved.

Bizzare decision

Now, we've established how WhatsApp is able to determine which messages are fake news and spam. However, not all forwarded WhatsApp messages are spam or misinformation.

You get forwarded jokes, community security information, community alerts, and many more types of messages are forwarded which are useful. Better still, it is unlikely (I'm assuming WhatsApp doesn't snoop and collect all messages) that these types of forwarded messages get reported to WhatsApp.

This then begs the question: how did WhatsApp determine that out of all forwarded messages on WhatsApp, the majority of them (or significant amount of them), are spam or fake news?

Easy to "forward" a message more than 5 times

Lastly, this limit is effectively useless, especially if it is a text message. If you really want to forward a WhatsApp message to more than 5 groups or people, just copy and paste it in the intended group or chat.

From a User Experience point, it actually takes about the same number of clicks to copy and paste a message as it does to forward it.

Cover image credit: Rachit Tank/Unsplash

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