Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp said Wednesday that it would launch the WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub globally, in partnership with the World Health Organization, United Nations Children's Fund, and United Nations Development Programme, and a $1 million donation to the Poynter Institute's International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).
The WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub will be available at whatsapp.com/coronavirus and provide simple, actionable guidance for health workers, educators, community leaders, nonprofits, local governments and local businesses that rely on WhatsApp to communicate. The site also offers general tips and resources for users around the world to reduce the spread of rumours and connect with accurate health information.
“We know that our users are reaching out on WhatsApp more than ever at this time of crisis, whether it’s to friends and loved ones, doctors to patients, or teachers to students. We wanted to provide a simple resource that can help connect people at this time. We are also pleased to be able to partner with the Poynter Institute to help grow the amount of fact-checking organizations on WhatsApp and to support their life saving work to debunk rumors. We will also continue to work directly with health ministries around the world for them to provide updates right within WhatsApp,” said Will Cathcart, Head of WhatsApp.
WhatsApp has over 2 billion active users globally, of which over 400 million monthly active users are in India, and conversations over the medium will likely increase as more and more people work from home due to the spread of the coronavirus.
The WHO declared COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, a pandemic earlier this month. The total number of people affected worldwide has crossed 2 lakh, with over 8,200 deaths and over 82,800 recoveries. In the absence of a cure or vaccine, governments around the world are struggling with how to control the situation. Countries like Italy, France, Spain, parts of the US have been under lockdown to prevent the spread of the disease which spreads through contact.
With its latest initiatives, WhatsApp will continue to provide a simple, reliable, and secure way for people to communicate. These recommendations provide quick guidance on how small groups can make the most of WhatsApp features, and will be distributed by UNDP to those coordinating local efforts.
In addition, WhatsApp is working with the WHO and UNICEF to provide messaging hotlines for people around the world to use directly. These hotlines will provide reliable information and will be listed on the WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub.
“Getting up to date information about COVID-19 to local communities around the world is a critical piece of the international community’s efforts to stem the spread of the virus,” said Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “Partnerships with private sector companies like WhatsApp will help get this vital, real time information from the World Health Organization and local health officials to billions of users around the globe.
WhatsApp has worked with a number of national health ministries and NGOs to provide factual information to users via text in countries including Singapore, Israel, South Africa, Brazil, and Indonesia. As these efforts continue, the hub will be updated with the latest resources.
WhatsApp’s $1 million grant to the IFCN will support fact-checking for the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, which spans more than 100 local organizations in at least 45 countries.
The spread of misinformation to protect oneself from the virus, which originated in China late last year, and has spread to most of the world now, has been a major issue. Some such misinformation has resulted in loss of lives in countries like Iran.
Over the past year, WhatsApp has worked to bring over a dozen fact-checking organisations directly onto WhatsApp so they can crowdsource and report on rumors that may be circulating on various messaging services including WhatsApp or SMS. The grant will support training to use the advanced features within WhatsApp Business, including the WhatsApp Business API. Expanding the presence of these IFCN-certified fact-checking organisations will help ensure local communities are aware and responding to potential harmful rumours.
“The timely donation from WhatsApp will help the fact-checks published by the CoronaVirus Facts Alliance to reach wider audiences and, in consequence, help people sort facts from fiction during this avalanche of information that WHO called an 'infodemic'. The International Fact-Checking Network also looks forward to discovering ways to understand the spread of health related hoaxes on WhatsApp in different formats and to make tools available for fact-checkers to detect and debunk misinformation on the messaging app,” said Baybars Orsek, Director, IFCN.