WhatsApp has responded to the current public health crisis with aplomb. The Facebook-owned company has already rolled out a chatbot in collaboration with the UK Government to answer some of the most common questions around the COVID-19 pandemic – while easing the huge number of people ringing the 111 NHS phone line. The chatbot can also send out new information, including the latest Government advice about the easing of restrictions.
WhatsApp has also restricted the ability to forward text messages in a bid to stop the spread of misinformation around the virus, including conspiracy theories about 5G being the origin of the potentially fatal virus. That strategy seems to be working very well so far.
And now the latest measure from WhatsApp has debuted on Android and iPhone. A new chatbot launched this week with the help of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies’ International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). Drawing on the expertise of 80 fact-checking organisations from across the globe, WhatsApp’s new chatbot will be able to tell users whether information is false.
Professional fact-checkers from 74 countries have been hard at work since January – debunking more than 4,000 COVID-19 hoaxes during that period. This information should help reassure users worried about something they’ve heard or read online from unofficial sources.
The Poynter database of coronavirus hoaxes includes rumours around fake vaccines and miracle cures designed to help with the novel coronavirus – which currently has no cure or treatment. Other hoaxes about COVID-19 being a biological weapon, racist misinformation about the spread of the virus, and more. The database is updated every day.
The chatbot also allows WhatsApp users to text new information they’ve encountered to be verified by local fact-checkers.
“Hundreds of millions of users rely on WhatsApp to stay in touch with their friends and families every day,” said Baybars Orsek, IFCN director about the latest launch from the messaging app – the most popular on the planet with two billion users. “Since bad actors use every single platform to disseminate falsehoods, to mislead others during such troubling times, fact-checkers’ work is more important than ever.”
The chatbot is available to use now. So, if you’ve seen something in a Facebook status from a distant relative, heard friends discussing something that you haven’t heard discussed in the Daily Government coronavirus briefing that has you worried – there is likely already an answer in the vast fact-checking database that the chatbot will be able to surface for you.
And if not, the fact-checkers will work to get to the bottom of the new rumour for you.
IFCN’s chatbot is free to use. Users should save +1 (727) 2912606 as a contact number and text the word “Hi” to get the bot started.
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World news – US – WhatsApp has another crucial update for iPhone and Android users