In the battle against misinformation, global communication app, WhatsApp, has launched a new chatbot in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide correct and accessible information to the public.
The WHO Health Alert service is free to use and provides answers to a series of common questions and concerns about COVID-19 as well as other relevant information. It can also direct you to a page where you can donate to the UN’s COVID-19 fundraiser.
To access the service, simply download and open up WhatsApp and text “hi” to the official WHO Health Alert number (+41 79 893 1892) or, while on desktop, click send on this page. The bot will reply with a menu and corresponding numbers/emoji to reply with. The menu includes the latest number of COVID-19 cases, tips on how to protect yourself, answers to common questions, and more. Accessing this service will also automatically register your account to receive updates regarding COVID-19 directly from the WHO. This service is available to use globally, at any time of the day, and will soon be available in six different languages.
To receive updates on #COVID19 from WHO add this number— +41 79 893 18 92 to your contacts and send a @WhatsApp message. You’ll automatically be registered to receive updates and also have an option to ask for more information as shown below. pic.twitter.com/WXaGd88AGf
— WHO Uganda (@WHOUganda) March 20, 2020
It’s plain to see that WhatsApp is serious in battling misinformation. The company donated US$ 1 million to the International Fact-Checking Network to aid in checking facts for the #CoronaVirusFacts hashtag. Last year, it reduced its message forwarding limit to five people/groups to discourage mass texting. Back in 2018, the company banned over 400,000 accounts for “automated and bulk messaging activity” during Brazil’s election period. Additionally, WhatsApp also limited the ability for a user’s contacts to unwillingly add him/her to any group chat.
Moving forward, WhatsApp is now in talks with the UK’s National Health Service in creating their own chatbot. The service aims to provide relevant and correct information about COVID-19 to users. NHS has already been moving in fighting misinformation with helping its citizens putting trusted information from the NHS itself at the top of Google searches. It was also able to partner with Amazon to develop an Alexa-based chatbot that can be accessed through Alexa-enabled smart devices.