WhatsApp has unveiled new plans to fight the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. First up, the Facebook-owned chat app is donating $1million to the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to support rigorous fact-checking and prevent the spread of misinformation around the potentially fatal COVID-19 virus. Elsewhere, WhatsApp will also run an up-to-date hub of the latest information and guidelines from the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) accessible to its 2 billion users worldwide.
WhatsApp is comfortably the most popular messaging platform available, so it makes sense that parent company Facebook believes it can use this expansive network to ensure people have the latest information about the spread of the novel coronavirus, which started in China in November and has since infected 199,585 people worldwide, resulting in 7,981 deaths.
In the UK, some 1,950 people have contracted the respiratory infection, with 60 fatal cases.
Dubbed the WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub, the hub will be available today at whatsapp.com/coronavirus. According to the chat app, the hub is designed to “provide simple, actionable guidance for health workers, educators, community leaders, nonprofits, local governments and local businesses that rely on WhatsApp to communicate.”
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However, the website will also be a resource for WhatsApp users who want to find out general tips on how to reduce the spread of rumours and connect with accurate health information about COVID-19 as the virus continues its spread across the globe.
As Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other world leaders have urged people to self-isolate and reduce any contact with other people, messaging apps like WhatsApp will become increasingly important to safely keep in touch with friends, family, co-workers, and those who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
In its newly-launched hub, WhatsApp promises to share “quick guidance on how small groups can make the most of WhatsApp features”.
Not only that, WhatsApp is also 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.
To date, 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.
Speaking about the efforts in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Head of WhatsApp Will Cathcart said: “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 organisations on WhatsApp and to support their life saving work to debunk rumours.
“We will also continue to work directly with health ministries around the world for them to provide updates right within WhatsApp.”
- Microsoft launches coronavirus map to help YOU track the pandemic
And WhatsApp isn’t the only Silicon Valley technology company scrambling to help out during the current crisis. Microsoft has launched an online map tool that tracks the spread of cases across the globe in real-time. It also provides access to the latest news reports about COVID-19.
Google currently has 1,700 engineers building a similar online tool. According to reports, Google’s project will be much more than an infection tracker and news portal and will also include information on the symptoms of COVID-19, risks associated with the disease, as well as information on the testing centres nearest to you.
In a statement about the WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub, Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said: “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.
“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.”
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