Facebook has introduced a feature intended to stop the spread of misinformation – and Australians are the first to get it.
The social media giant will now limit its Messenger users from forwarding more than five messages to people or groups at any one time.
Facebook said it was a part of its effort to curb the rampant spread of mis and disinformation on the platform, that’s only been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Limiting forwarding is an effective way to slow the spread of viral misinformation and harmful content that has the potential to cause real world harm,” a Facebook post explained.
“We are introducing a forwarding limit on Messenger to help curb the efforts of those looking to cause chaos, sow uncertainty or inadvertently undermine accurate information.”
While it limits a single forwarding attempt to five recipients, a user could simply re-forward the message manually to reach a further audience.
Facebook has said the feature is available for Australians immediately but will roll out globally from September 24.
It’s not the first popular messaging app to introduce such a feature. WhatsApp, also owned by Facebook, ramped up its forwarding limits back in April at the onset of the global pandemic.
The encrypted messaging service once allowed a user to forward 250 messages at a single time but pulled it back to 20 in early 2019 after misinformation continued to spread through it in chain messages.
In India, it implemented a limit of five forwards in response to a number of deaths linked to hoaxes spread through the app.
Those changes in April 2020 meant that if a message had already been forwarded five times, a user could only forward it on to a single person or group at a time.
Facebook’s introduction of the feature comes in the middle of a battle brewing between the social media site and Australia’s consumer watchdog, the ACCC.
After quietly contemplating its response to proposed new rules that could see it pay media outlets, Facebook warned it could pull all news sharing off its site for Australian users.
It said it hadn’t yet defined what news would actually be and how it would work to differentiate between links.
Pundits have already warned the move could see a wave of misinformation fill the void on a platform already plagued with it.
If Facebook hasn’t already eclipsed Twitter as the Bad Place, it soon could do so.