WhatsApp is introducing a feature that allows users to check the contents of viral messages in the latest move to root out disinformation and fake news being spread on the Facebook-owned service.
The feature, which is being piloted in six countries since Tuesday, lets users to perform a Google search on content they have been forwarded to factcheck claims and information.
The option is be available now in Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, UK, and US for those on the latest versions of WhatsApp for Android, iOS and WhatsApp Web.
If you happen to receive a message that has been forwarded multiple times, then you’ll see an option that indicates that message has been sent to multiple WhatsApp contacts and has the potential to contain harmful fake news. You’ll also see a magnifying glass option that will allow you to instantly search and fact check that particular link or image.
In a screenshot showing how the feature works, WhatsApp used the example of a message that contained the claim that “drinking fresh boiled garlic water will cure Covid-19”. The web search function brings up three factchecking websites stating that the claim is false.
Attempts to crackdown on the spread of misinformation on WhatsApp, which has 2 billion users worldwide, have been complicated because messages are encrypted. This means the company cannot see the contents of messages that are sent. The new web search feature gives users the ability to do the factchecking.
This year WhatsApp introduced limits on the forwarding of messages that had not come from a close contact. These viral messages can now only be forwarded on to one more person, instead of the previous limit of five. Until 2018, users had been able to forward a message to 250 groups at once. That was reduced to 20 that year, five in 2019 and one now.
The company said that the measure had cut the spread of viral messages by 70%