(Credit: WhatsApp)

WhatsApp has tweaked its message forwarding feature in a bid to fight the spread of fake news.

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As of now, WhatsApp users cannot forward a message to more than five chats at the same time. Previously, you were able to forward messages to as many as 20 different chats in one shot. Before that, you could forward a message to as many as 256 different chats at one time. Last July, WhatsApp began testing the new messaging limit as well as the removal of the quick forward button next to media messages. Though the test was conducted with India in mind, the new limit is rolling out worldwide.

"WhatsApp carefully evaluated this test and listened to user feedback over a six-month period," the company said in a blog post. "The forward limit significantly reduced forwarded messages around the world. Starting today, all users on the latest versions of WhatsApp can now forward to only five chats at once, which will help keep WhatsApp focused on private messaging with close contacts. We'll continue to listen to user feedback about their experience, and over time, look for new ways of addressing viral content."

Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which has around 1.5 billion users, has come under fire over the ease at which people using the service can spread fake news. With no clear way to verify whether information they receive is true or false, many users assume the facts are real and overreact. The problem has been especially severe in India where people have been murdered over rumors of child molestation and other alleged incidents disseminated through WhatsApp.

In India, five men were lynched last July by a mob allegedly inflamed by rumors of child molestation spread via WhatsApp, according to BBC News. Twelve people were arrested for the murders. At least 12 prior deaths in India had been linked to WhatsApp rumors over the past few months, the BBC said. Those incidents included a man who was wandering aimlessly beaten to death by a mob, a woman lynched for giving sweets to children, and a man lynched for speaking Hindi rather than the local language.

But fake news on WhatsApp has been an issue in other countries beyond India. Last fall, the app was implicated in an election scandal in Brazil through which voters were inundated with fake news and conspiracy theories spread through the service.

WhatsApp has taken other actions to limit how people can use the service. Last year, the company introduced a feature through which admins can choose to be the only ones able to send messages to all members. Another feature prevents users from adding back individuals who already left a WhatsApp group.

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  1. WhatsApp now prevents users from forwarded a message to more than five chats at one time.
  2. The new limitation is WhatsApp's latest effort to combat the spread of fake news.

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Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books - "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time" and "Teach Yourself VISUALLY LinkedIn."