Don’t Break the Chain: Measuring Message Forwarding on WhatsApp


  • Philipe de Freitas Melo Universidade Federal de Viçosa Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
  • Mohamad Hoseini Max Planck Institute for Informatics
  • Savvas Zannettou TU Delft
  • Fabrício Benevenuto Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais



WhatsApp has evolved into a popular communication tool, facilitating the exchange of billions of multimedia messages globally. With its large public groups and forwarding features, the platform has enabled messages to go viral, rapidly disseminating across the WhatsApp network. This has also brought WhatsApp to a central position in spreading misinformation campaigns, prompting the company to implement measures to counter bulk message dissemination, such as limiting simultaneous forwards and flagging viral content. Despite these measures, there remains a gap in our understanding of how forwarded messages function within this ecosystem and the effectiveness of the restrictions in containing the spread of viral content. In this study, we analyze approximately 10 million messages from 1,101 public WhatsApp groups dedicated to political discussion in Brazil, focusing on forwarded content. We investigate the structure of message forwarding, assess the reach of Forwarded Many Times (FTM) labeling mechanism, and evaluate the platform's ability to detect and flag duplicated media. Our findings reveal that forwarded messages constitute a substantial portion of the content shared in public WhatsApp groups. Moreover, we discover that the measures implemented by WhatsApp to restrict the dissemination of such messages can be easily circumvented, allowing users to intentionally bypass the architecture of the system and share media beyond the imposed limits. Notably, we identify that 59% of duplicated content flagged as FMT by WhatsApp does not receive the corresponding flag and find evidences of misinformation circulating virally in those groups. This research provides valuable insights into the dynamics of forwarded messages on WhatsApp and highlights the need for more effective strategies to combat the spread of viral content within the platform.




How to Cite

Melo, P. de F., Hoseini, M., Zannettou, S., & Benevenuto, F. (2024). Don’t Break the Chain: Measuring Message Forwarding on WhatsApp. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 18(1), 1054-1067.