WHO launches Facebook Messenger chatbot to fight fake news

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a chatbot on Facebook Messenger to provide accurate and timely information about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The interactive Health Alert service was built in collaboration with software company Sprinklr and will leverage Messenger’s reach to 1.3 billion monthly active users to provide a platform for getting quick access to topics relating to the coronavirus.

Facebook said that many people around the world were turning to communication platforms like Messenger to get information on the current crisis.

“In many of the regions hit hardest by COVID-19, total messaging through Facebook’s family of apps has increased by more than 50%,” it said.

The service is currently available in one of four languages – English, French, Spanish, or Arabic.

The information offered through the service includes the latest numbers of confirmed cases, tips for protecting oneself, advice for travelling, answers to commonly-asked questions, and links to news updates from the WHO.

Combatting false information

A special “Mythbusters” section on the service is dedicated to debunking false information about COVID-19.

The current list of facts that contradict outlandish claims include:

  • Cold weather and snow cannot kill the coronavirus.
  • Taking a hot bath does not prevent the coronavirus.
  • Hand dryers are not effective in killing the coronavirus.
  • Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill viruses that have already entered your body.
  • Garlic is healthy but there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the coronavirus.
  • To date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the coronavirus.

The service is free and can be accessed by sending a “Get Started” message to the official World Health Organization profile on Facebook Messenger.

WhatsApp Health Alert service

The WHO previously launched an information service which provides similar facts about COVID-19 via a WhatsApp chatbot.

The chatbot is used by over 12 million people worldwide, with the WHO targeting 50 million users.

The service, which was created by non-profit company Praekelt.org, was launched in South Africa by the National Department of Health (NDoH).

WhatsApp users can add the number +27 60 012 3456 to get information from the department of health pertaining to the virus in South Africa, while sending “hi” to +41 22 501 7298 will provide access to the WHO’s Health Alert service.

Now read: Coronavirus is 10-times deadlier than swine flu – WHO

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WHO launches Facebook Messenger chatbot to fight fake news