Facebook is restricting WhatsApp users’ ability to forward messages: Each message can now only be sent to a maximum of 20 chats, down from 250, per user. In India, the cap is even lower: Only five chats. The cap on forwarding comes after at least 20 mob killings, linked to viral child abduction hoaxes spread on the platform.
India had warned Facebook it could face heavy fines for not intervening in the fake news epidemics spreading via WhatsApp, at one point calling the platform a “mute spectator,” the BBC reports.
“We’re horrified by the violence in India, and we’ve announced number of different product changes to help address these issues,” a spokesperson for WhatsApp told The Guardian. “It’s a challenge which requires an action by civil society, government and tech companies.”
In India, viral hoaxes accusing innocent people of child trafficking and organ harvesting have led to 20 deaths, where the accused are dragged from their homes and lynched, beat to death by mobs.
The Guardian reports 2000 people were part of the mob that killed 27-year-old Mohammad Azam. Rumours on WhatsApp have been blamed for leading locals to accuse Azam of trying to kidnap children. Police have arrested 25 people in connection with his death.
In addition to the new forwarding limit, WhatsApp users in India will also lose the app’s “quick forward” button “next to messages containing pictures or video,” according to the BBC. WhatsApp’s blog on the news refers to the changes as a “test”, with no word on how long the test may last.
India has 200 million active WhatsApp users, making it the platform’s largest market.
“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,” the post reads.