WhatsApp said Monday it is restricting its users' ability to forward messages in a bid to halt the spread of misinformation and rumors via the social-media platform.

Whereas users formerly could forward a message to up to 20 individual users or groups at one time (a maximum of 5,120 people) via the cellphone app, the new rules, which took effect immediately, have reduced that number to five individuals or groups (a maximum of 1,280 people).

"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," the Facebook-owned company said in a statement.

"We'll continue to listen to user feedback about their experience, and over time look for new ways of addressing viral content," it added.

The measure is now being applied worldwide.

The company earlier had adopted the five-chat limit on message sharing in India, where the spread of child-abduction rumors had led to a series of mob lynchings.

The announcement comes three months after WhatsApp pledged to combat the spread of false information via the platform in Brazil through improved "product control," though at that time it did not reduce the message-forwarding limit there to five chats.

Center-left presidential candidate Fernando Haddad said millions of slanderous messages about him had been spread via WhatsApp in the lead-up to the Oct. 28, 2018, runoff election.

Haddad accused his opponent in that balloting - rightist Jair Bolsonaro, who won the election by an 11-percentage-point margin and became president on Jan. 1 - of working with his business backers to form a criminal network aimed at spreading lies and fake news.

Bolsonaro has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Founded in 2009, WhatsApp is the world's most popular messaging app with roughly 1.5 billion users.