WhatsApp limits how many times a viral message can be forwarded to ONE chat at a time – instead of five – in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus misinformation

  • Frequently forwarded messages marked with two arrows are now restricted  
  • Can only be forwarded one message at a time to avoid misinformation spread
  • Par of efforts from WhatsApp to clamp down on spread of misleading information circulating on the app 

WhatsApp is putting strict measures in place to restrict how many times a viral message can be forwarded to other chats in a bid to stop the spread of misinformation during the coronavirus pandemic.  

A frequently forwarded message — which has already been shared more that five times in the app — is denoted by two arrows when sent to a chat. 

Restrictions are being implemented today around the world to all users which will limit the forwarding of popular messages to just one chat at a time.  

Previously, a user could select five different chats at a time to send the message to. 

WhatsApp said the change was part of efforts to fight the spread of disinformation, particularly around the coronavirus outbreak. 

Pictured, a frequently forwarded message — which has already been shared more that five times in the app — is denoted by two arrows when sent to a chat. These can now only be sent to one chat at a time 

Pictured, a popular message could easily be shared with up to five chats at a time – the top recent chat in the above image is the same recipient as one of the ‘frequently contacted’ recipients. Now, frequently forwarded messages can no longer be shared with more than one recipient at a time 

Users will still be able to send a message to more than one chat, but it will mean sending the popular message on to a different chat one at a time, a much slower and clunkier process. 

Similar deliberate moves to limit the spread of popular messages have been employed by WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging platform used by more than two billion global users, to great success.   

In a blog post, the company writes: ‘For example, we previously set limits on forwarded messages to constrain virality, which led to a 25 per cent decrease in message forwards globally at the time.

End-to-end encryption ensures only the two participants of a chat can read messages, and no one in between – not even the company that owns the service.

End-to-end encryption is intended to prevent data being read or secretly modified when it is in transit between the two parties.

The cryptographic keys needed to access the service are automatically provided only to the two people in each conversation. 

In decrypted form, messages are accessible by a third party – which makes them interceptable by governments for law enforcement reasons.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp is already encrypted, and now Mark Zuckerberg is looking to do the same with Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct. 

‘Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not. 

‘We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful. 

‘In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organise public moments of support for frontline health workers. 

‘However, we’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of forwarding which users have told us can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation. 

‘We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation. 

WhatsApp also confirmed it was testing a feature which would allow users to find out more information about frequently forwarded messages that reach them.

The feature would see a magnifying glass icon appear next to these forwarded messages, giving users the option to do a web search for the message to find news stories and other results linked to it.

WhatsApp has introduced new stricter limits on message forwarding. Users will still be able to send a message to more than one chat, but it will mean sending the popular message on to a different chat one at a time, a much slower and clunkier process

Internet platforms have so far struggled to contain content attempting to profit from panic around the pandemic.

There has also been an alarming rise in false claims offering cures to the virus and conspiracy theories linking the outbreak with 5G technology.

This is the third major change WhatsApp has made to stop coronavirus panic, following the launch of a ‘coronavirus information hub’ and a ‘coronavirus chatbot’. 

WhatsApp employs end-to-end encryption so is physically unable to see the content of messages sent on the platform.

This makes it different to both Instagram and Facebook, where it can view, moderate, demote and remove content.   


The following guidance and advice from WhatsApp has been shared to help people to stay connected and stay accurately informed during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Connect remotely

Use WhatsApp features like groups, voice messages and video calls to stay connected and provide support to loved ones when you can’t be in the same place, such as with those who are ill or self-isolating.

Support your community

Set up a WhatsApp group to connect with your community and neighbours, and offer each other help and support, such as help with shopping, medical supplies or just a friendly phone call. 

This is especially important to support elderly people who may not be able to leave their home.

Make regular calls to the elderly and vulnerable

WhatsApp is simple and easy to use no matter your age. Use WhatsApp to regularly phone or video call your parents, grandparents and the over 70s to prevent them feeling isolated. 

WhatsApp video calls let you connect with up to four people on one call so you can talk to the whole family at once. 

The video function can be found by pressing the ‘phone’ icon in the top right-hand corner of any WhatsApp Group chat.

Choose reliable sources of information

Connect with local, national and global organisations. 

Turn to trusted sources, such as the government, the NHS and the World Health Organization for the latest information and guidelines.

Help prevent the spread of rumours

Think about the messages that you receive, because not everything you are sent about the coronavirus may be accurate. 

Messages with the ‘Forwarded’ label help you determine if your friend or relative wrote the message or if it originally came from someone else. 

When a message is forwarded from one user to another more than five times, you will see a ‘highly forwarded’ double arrow icon which means you should pause and think about whether you should forward it. 

Verify facts with trusted official sources before you share them, such as the government, NHS or WHO, and if you aren’t sure if something’s true, don’t forward it.

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