Subsequent to the launch of the new COVID-19 information hub, WhatsApp has now announced that in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO), the launch of a new chatbot in order to provide its 2 billion users access to accurate and timely information on the Coronavirus outbreak.
WhatsApp states that:
“The new service, which is free to use, has been designed to answer questions from the public about Coronavirus, and to give prompt, reliable and official information 24 hours a day, worldwide. This will also serve government decision-makers by providing the latest numbers and situation reports.”
To begin this service, the WhatsApp user must save the number (+41 79 893 1892), as their phone contact and sent a WhatsApp text message saying “Hi”. Then via a series of prompt responses, the bot will cover key queries and information relating to COVID-19, ideally dismissing some of the rumors and misinformation that have been going around via social and messaging apps with regard to the outbreak.
With WhatsApp’s massive reach and end-to-end encryption, a new report in The Guardian states that it has become a key source for a number of misinformation campaigns. Therefore by providing users access to accurate information via the app, it could significantly help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
As per The Guardian:
“More traditional social networks such as Facebook and search engines such as Google have made substantial efforts to crack down on coronavirus misinformation, but messages on WhatsApp are encrypted and untraced, which means claims can be viewed by tens of millions of people without being fact-checked by authorities or news organizations. It’s relatively easy for a Facebook moderator to remove a public post that breaks the services’ rules, but the encryption WhatsApp uses means that no one other than those involved in a conversation can see the material shared and relies on individuals self-policing their conversations.”
Hopefully, a reduction in the spreading of myths and misinformation will come to be with the new chatbot. Reportedly, WhatsApp is also in talks with the NHS in the UK to create a similar chatbot tool, while also working with the Singapore Government, The Israel Ministry of Health, the South Africa Department of Health, and KOMINFO Indonesia to keep the citizens in these regions informed as well. Let’s use this chatbot to stay educated and prevent the disease of misinformation and COVID-19 from spreading.