Fake news menace: You can share WhatsApp messages with only up to 5 people

In response to the government's crackdown on the circulation of fake news, especially using its platform, WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned instant messaging mobile app, has limit the number of people to whom you can forward a message to five. 

The move follows several other steps with the same objective, such as issuing guidelines on how to identify forwarded messages and be a responsible user of the service. 

The new feature would roll out as part of an app update from this week itself. The step came soon after the government asked WhatsApp and other social media platforms to take onus and help curb fake news circulation, which had been causing violence -- even lynching in some recent cases.

WhatsApp has also reportedly been testing more features to crack down on fake news on its platform. Recently, the company had started testing a feature in its beta app for Android in which the app recognises authenticity of the link and marks unusual links as ‘suspicious’.

“Spammers may use some character combinations to trick you into tapping on links that appear to go to a legitimate website, but actually take you to a malicious site,” the company said in a statement.

The statement further added that these checks on links happen only on the user device because of end-to-end encryption which does not allow the company to see the content of messages. This also implies that WhatsApp will not be able to stop a malicious link from being forwarded, but can only label it as suspicious once it has landed in someone’s chat.

The company illustrated this with an example of a site “https://vvhatsapp.com/free-tickets” which it said is a suspicious link as what looks like the letter “w” in the link is actually two “v”. Another such vulnerability was found by Russian security firm Kaspersky, which said in a report released in May that there are fake websites which look like social media giant Facebook but have manipulative web addresses which make people believe that they are logging into the real site but their details get stolen. These websites use addresses such as services-facebook.com which seem realistic enough for a lay person to not verify twice. The company refused to comment further on the feature as it is still in beta.

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