WhatsApp has blocked more than two million users in India for breaking a little-known rule intended to stop the spread of hoaxes and fake news.
Over the course of just one month – between 15 May and 15 June – the messaging app, which has around two billion users, purged the accounts that had violated the rule.
The company said it targeted users who were sending a “high and abnormal rate of messages”, the Express reports.
More than 95% of the bans were “due to the unauthorized use of automated or bulk messaging” and not regular texting, WhatsApp added.
India is WhatsApp’s biggest market with more than 400 million users.
Bans were triggered when users forwarded messages too many times, blasting past the app’s strict new limit on how many times a message can be forwarded to other people or groups.
The limit, which was announced in April 2020, is in place to combat spam and the spread of viral rumours, photos and hoaxes.
This is a huge problem in India, where many people rely on the app for news.
Messages containing “fake news” have been blamed for outbreaks of violence across the country.
The current rules mean if a user receives a frequently forwarded message – one which has been forwarded more than five times – they are only able to send it on to a single chat at a time.
This is one-fifth of the previous limit of five chats which was introduced in 2019.
The latest ban is not the first time the app has mass-blocked users.
WhatsApp said it uses AI technology to block around eight million accounts around the world, every month.
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Information like profile and group photos and descriptions as well as “behavioural signals” from accounts are employed to decide whom to ban.
Reports submitted by other users also have also helped to catch out rogue accounts.
WhatsApp said in a statement: “We are particularly focused on prevention because we believe it is much better to stop harmful activity from happening in the first place than to detect it after harm has occurred.
“The abuse detection operates at three stages of an account’s lifestyle: at registration; during messaging; and in response to negative feedback, which we receive in the form of user reports and blocks.”
It added that it had not read any of the spam messages sent on the app because of its end-to-end encryption.