WhatsApp gets a COVID-19 fact-checking bot

The chatbot will connect users with 80 global fact-checking organizations.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert
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Poynter Institute's coronavirus fact-checking hub.

Screenshot by Corinne Reichert/CNET

WhatsApp is getting a chatbot to connect the messaging app's millions of users with more than 80 fact-checking organizations across the globe. It comes as an effort to battle misinformation being spread about the coronavirus. The chatbot was launched Monday by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies' International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), and it'll tell users whether information is false.

Professional fact checkers from 74 different countries have been working since January, debunking over 4,000 COVID-19 hoaxes in that time. The Poynter database of coronavirus hoaxes includes rumors rated to be false like fake vaccines and miracle cures, coronavirus being created as a biological weapon, racist misinformation about the spread of COVID-19 and false claims that 5G caused the coronavirus. The database is updated every day.

The chatbot also lets WhatsApp users send new information being spread to local fact checkers.

To use the chatbot, save the number +1 (727) 2912606 as a contact and text it "hi" through WhatsApp. At the moment, it's only available in English but will soon launch in Spanish and Hindi.

"Hundreds of millions of users rely on WhatsApp to stay in touch with their friends and families every day," said Baybars Orsek, IFCN director. "Since bad actors use every single platform to disseminate falsehoods, to mislead others during such troubling times, fact checkers' work is more important than ever."

To combat the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus, WhatsApp has also limited message forwarding, created a coronavirus information hub, donated $1 million to fight fake news and launched a fact checker in Italy last month.

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