Can WhatsApp Counter Misinformation by Limiting Message Forwarding?

by   Philipe de Freitas Melo, et al.

WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in the world. The closed nature of the app summed to the ease of transferring multimedia and sharing information to large-scale groups make WhatsApp unique among other platforms, where an anonymous encrypted message can be viral, reaching multiple users in a short period of time. The personal feeling and immediacy of messages directly delivered in the user's phone was extensively abused in WhatsApp to spread unfounded rumors and create misinformation campaigns. WhatsApp has been deploying contention measures to mitigate this problem, such as reducing the limit for forwarding a message to five. Despite the welcomed effort in counter the problem, there is no evidence so far on the real effectiveness of such restrictions. In this work, we propose a methodology to evaluate the effectiveness of such contention measures on the spreading of misinformation circulating on WhatsApp. We use an epidemiological model and real data gathered from WhatsApp in Brazil, India and Indonesia to assess the impact of limiting virality features in this kind of network. Our results suggest that the current efforts deployed by WhatsApp can offer delays on the information spread, but they are ineffective in blocking the propagation of misinformation campaigns in public groups.


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