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New pop-up test could help squash spam messages on WhatsApp

WhatsApp could be working to devise a way to stop the spread of those mass-forwarded spam messages. One group is sharing screenshots of a beta feature that will warn users if the message they are seeing has been forwarded too often, a sign the message could be spam. WhatsApp has not commented on the feature, which appears to be part of a test.

The screenshot of the feature shows a pop-up that says “a message you are forwarding has been forwarded many times.” According to the group that spotted the test, WABetaInfo, the feature is designed to prevent mass forwarded spam messages, including unwanted advertising and even fake news. One example is a recent mass message that says WhatsApp will start charging users if they don’t forward the message — while fake, users who fall for the message, of course, send it on to their friends, who continue the chain.

Without a confirmation on WhatsApp about the feature, it’s unclear if the test will see widespread adoption. The notification joins WhatsApp’s existing tool that allows users to report users when they send spam, but reporting may not be the appropriate response when a legitimate friend has gotten caught up in a fake chain letter. By displaying an alert, Whastapp could help more users to stop and think before forwarding the message.

While fake news may be more prominent on social networks that aren’t designed around sharing private encrypted messages, WhatsApp isn’t immune to the fake news trend crossing several networks. Last year, police in India said that fake WhatsApp messages created two separate mob attacks that killed seven people. At the time, the police didn’t know who started the fake message but confirmed that the claimed kidnappings in the messages were completely false.

The potential spam pop-up joins a long list of tested features from parent company Facebook — and many of the tests never actually make it into the widely available app. Another recent test would allow Instagram users to post their Stories as a WhatsApp status, a potential feature that has been confirmed by Instagram. WhatsApp previously tested an option for businesses to send messages, a tool that later ended up rolling out in the app through verified accounts.

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