I know, I know. Facebook trying to do the right thing and limit spam on its network is kind of like saying I’m going to use this masking tape to seal the hole in this nearby dam, but every little bit helps, right?
For those of you still using the social network — and even I wonder, sometimes, if that’s the right move, given Facebook’s prominence as we inch closer and closer to the November electoral hellscape — Facebook is now borrowing a page from WhatsApp and limiting how content can be forwarded across Messenger.
As Facebook announced yesterday, the social behemoth will now only allow you to forward a message to up to five people or groups at a time. Let’s unpack that a little bit.
First, this isn’t a ban on forwarding messages entirely — as amazing as that would be. And don’t assume that Facebook’s wording of “at a time” means that you’ll be able to blast your latest hyper-politicized “news” piece to five people, wait, and blast it to five more people after the fact. Nope. You get five, total, before you’re cut off.
The one bit that doesn’t make the most sense is that this limit only applies to those using the forwarding feature in Messenger to share content. This won’t restrict you from simply single-spamming your friends one-by-one with a link to whatever propaganda piece you’re trying to highlight. (I think it’d be a lot more useful if Facebook could simply prevent you from sharing content more than x amount of times, period, but I suppose you could probably work around that with a URL shortener or other goofy techniques.)
Still, writes Facebook, “Limiting forwarding is an effective way to slow the spread of viral misinformation and harmful content that has the potential to cause real world harm.”
While Facebook’s move isn’t a monumental change, it’s one that can have an impact. As WhatsApp told TechCrunch back when it started limiting users’ ability to forward messages, “globally there has been a 70% reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages sent on WhatsApp.”
“This change is helping keep WhatsApp a place for personal and private conversations. WhatsApp is committed to doing our part to tackle viral messages,” a spokesperson added.
Now, if only Facebook could turn its attention to all those horrible groups posting violent rhetoric, calls for extremist action, and other society-destroying propaganda. How much better the online world might be!