WhatsApp now becomes more user-friendly. WhatsApp has started rolling out its latest feature that would indicate to users which messages they have to receive as forwarded by the sender. Already received by the Android beta users last month, this new WhatsApp feature essentially adds a ‘Forwarded’ label to all the forwarded WhatsApp messages users have received to help them decide if the contacts have written the message they sent or it was originally created by someone else. Also, this new WhatsApp feature, which is now rolling out for both Android and iOS users all around the globe, is the latest attempt by the Facebook-owned company that might help limit the circulation of spam and fake news on its platform that has crossed over 1.5 billion monthly active users worldwide and more than 200 million active users in India.
Describing this new feature, WhatsApp issued a statement that read like, “Starting today, WhatsApp will indicate which messages you receive have been forwarded to you. This extra context will help make one-on-one and group chats easier to follow […] WhatsApp cares deeply about your safety. We encourage you to think before sharing messages that were forwarded.”
In addition to the above, last week, a ‘Suspicious Link Detection’ feature was also spotted on WhatsApp, designed to highlight the presence of a suspicious link in a message. The app also restricted the dissemination of false messages through a ‘Send Messages’ permissions feature for groups that allow group admins to limit participants from sending messages.
How to get this latest WhatsApp ‘Forwarded’ feature?
Notably, you need to have the latest WhatsApp version on your device to see the ‘Forwarded’ label. The label sits on top of the forwarded message to highlight that it hasn’t been created afresh for you. Furthermore, there isn’t any option to disable the label. This means that users who forward the messages won’t be able to remove the label from their side.
A WhatsApp spokesperson has confirmed that the new feature is rolling out now for both Android and iOS users and would be available globally in the next few days. While the feature indeed helps in the cases where a message is being forward using WhatsApp’s native message forwarding functionality, it doesn’t restrict users from copying-pasting the text and forwards it as a fresh message, ensuring no ‘Forwarded’ label is visible in that case.
To see how the ‘Forwarded’ label appears, you can select and forward one of the messages available within another WhatsApp chat thread. The feature was previously a part of the WhatsApp beta for Android version 2.18.179 that was released last month. To recall, the feature was first spotted in testing as disabled by default in January and then seen again in later versions.
WhatsApp’s efforts to combat misinformation:
Considering the ongoing debate over WhatsApp being a source for the circulation of misinformation, this additional feature of the Forwarded label is definitely quite a welcome step. Also, it has hit the scenes just after WhatsApp published advertisements in key Indian newspapers to make people aware of various ways to understand the difference between fake and real news. The company also recently started taking help from local experts to fight misleading information.
However, regarding this whole affair, technology, and policy experts have remained divided in their first reactions.
Lawyer Apar Gupta added that Whatsapp’s feature for flagging forwarded messages would at its best indicate that the messages have been idly sent through the forward function. He added, “It has easy circumvention. One may be able to copy, paste it, then send it, hence avoiding the labeling. A single character change such as changing the capitalization may defeat other protection measures as well”.
Ananth Padmanabhan, the fellow at Centre for Policy Research added that he was doubtful whether this solution would work. His words read that “If people were aware enough to know the distinction between a forward and a direct message, they would also be likely aware of the falsity of several messages they receive on their phones. Moreover, if the message is suitably panicky, it is unlikely people would care whether it’s a forward or a direct one”.
However, not everyone is as skeptical as the above users.
For instance, Sunil Abraham, co-founder at think tank Centre for Internet and Society gladly welcomed this latest move. He, in fact, added that “This is an excellent start. It will definitely help users raise levels of skepticism when reading the forwarded message. I hope WhatsApp will also add a “fact check this” button next to the forwarded message”.