I experienced a similar issue where not only did my photos display question marks, but other media files, links, and documents also appeared as question marks. Additionally, my WhatsApp backup on iCloud had a significantly reduced file size compared to its original size.
After searching around and testing a few different techniques, I finally recovered all my photos, videos, links, and docs. I will share what I did here.
You can follow these steps to restore WhatsApp chat history and media from an iCloud backup:
Step 1. Connect your iPhone to the computer which contains the backups of your iPhone.
Step 2. Restore an older backup of your iPhone through iTunes (on a PC or a Mac running macOS 14 or earlier) or Finder (on a Mac running macOS 10.15 or newer).
This should install an older version of WhatsApp saved to your computer in the backup and bring back your WhatsApp media (maybe not all of them since it is not the latest backup of your iPhone).
Step 3. Follow WhatsApp's instructions and requirements to back up WhatsApp chat history and media to iCloud.
- Make sure the iPhone is running 12 or newer and signed in with an Apple ID.
- Go to Settings > Profile > iCloud, and turn on iCloud Drive, and turn on WhatsApp.
- Ensure there is 2.05 times the space available in the iCloud account than the actual size of the WhatsApp backup.
- Go to WhatsApp Settings > Chats > Chat Backup and Include Videos > Back Up Now.
Step 4. Follow WhatsApp's instructions and requirements to restore WhatsApp chats and media from an iCloud backup.
If you are using another iPhone to restore WhatsApp data, do the following on another iPhone:
- You must be signed in with the same Apple ID and iCloud Drive must be turned on.
- Ensure there is 2.05 times the space available on the iPhone than the actual size of the WhatsApp backup.
- The phone number used for restoring must be the same.
- Delete and reinstall the WhatsApp app.
- Verify your phone number.
- Follow the prompts to restore your chat history.
Possible reasons why WhatsApp is not restoring media from backup
iCloud backup issues
If you see question marks instead of pictures in the Media, Links, and Docs section of the info page for your chats, or blank boxes instead of media in your chats, it is likely that the media wasn't correctly uploaded to the iCloud backup. Unfortunately, this means that the media can't be recovered through this backup.
Different WhatsApp versions
Another potential cause for WhatsApp media not being successfully restored is the use of different WhatsApp versions. The changes in database fields in the different WhatsApp versions can potentially lead to errors in the database parsing process.
Insufficient storage space
WhatsApp requires at least 2.05 times the space available in your iCloud account and on your phone than the actual size of your backup to back up or restore chat history and media content. Lacking enough free storage space may cause WhatsApp not to restore photos from a backup.
Different iOS versions
Another factor contributing to WhatsApp's inability to restore media from an iCloud backup on an iPhone is that the devices are running on different iOS versions.