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WhatsApp and WHO launch chatbot to answer public queries on COVID-19

WhatsApp announced today a new partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) as part of its effort to provide the public with accurate information related to coronavirus (COVID-19). The alliance sees the launch of a new chatbot that will respond to public questions about the pandemic 24/7.

To get started, simply text "hi" to WHO's Health Alert number +41 79 893 1892. The service will then send you a series of messages including prompts, latest coronavirus-related data, and a few emojis. The goal is to fight misinformation on the platform, which has become a hotbed of false information surrounding COVID-19 in Utrecht, Netherlands, at least, according to a Reuters report. Misleading messages have reportedly spread around the city telling residents to drink hot soup to avoid infection or hold their breath for 15 seconds to test for the virus.

The WHO chatbot is intended to disseminate official information on how to protect yourself from the virus and tell accurate information from lies, among other topics. The service will go live in the English language first before rolling out in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish over the coming weeks. WhatsApp also expects the new initiative to provide government decision-makers with the latest figures and other relevant data to inform their actions.

It's just the latest step by WhatsApp to help curb the spread of false information on its service. The Facebook-owned messaging service also launched a new information hub yesterday in collaboration with WHO, UNICEF, and the United Nations Development Programme to provide users with the latest news and information related to the pandemic. Plus, it's giving $1 million in grants to fact-checking organizations.

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