FILE PHOTO: A man poses with a smartphone in front of displayed Whatsapp logo in this illustration September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

NEW DELHI - Reuters
WhatsApp to limit message forwarding

Facebook's WhatsApp is launching a test to limit forwarding messages to multiple chats, the messaging app said on Thursday (Jul 19), after a series of violent incidents in India triggered by false social media messages.

It did not give more details about the test or what kind of limits will be put in place, but said they will apply to all users.

In India – where people forward more messages, photos and videos than any other country in the world – WhatsApp will test a lower limit of five chats at once and remove the quick forward button next to media messages.

WhatsApp added in a blog post that these changes will help to keep the app as it was designed to be - a private messaging app.

"We are deeply committed to your safety and privacy which is why WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, and we'll continue to improve our app with features like this one," it said.

Beatings and deaths triggered by false incendiary messages in India, WhatsApp's biggest market with more than 200 million users, caused a public relations nightmare, sparking calls from authorities for immediate action.

More than 20 people have been killed by mobs in the past two months across the country after being accused of child kidnapping and other crimes in viral messages circulated on WhatsApp.

In one incident, 15 men were arrested after beating two men to death in the northeastern state of Assam after rumours spread on WhatsApp of strangers abducting children.

Earlier this month, WhatsApp in response to a call from India's technology ministry, said it required a partnership with the government as well as society in general to curb the spread of false information on its platform.

WhatsApp last week published advertisements in key Indian newspapers to tackle the spread of misinformation, its first such effort to combat the flurry of fake messages.

Despite the steps taken by WhatsApp, India's information technology ministry released a strongly worded statement released late Thursday and said that the action taken was not enough.

"Rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on their platform have not been addressed adequately by WhatsApp," the ministry said.

"When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischief-mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability," it said.

"If (WhatsApp) remain mute spectators they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action."

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