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Facebook Messenger to help health organizations push out accurate coronavirus information

The social network's messaging service launches a new program to connect developers with health organizations for free.

Facebook Messenger has more than 1.3 billion monthly active users
James Martin/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

Facebook is stepping up its efforts to push out accurate information about the novel coronavirus on its messaging service as concerns about misinformation continue to grow.

On Monday, Facebook Messenger said it's launching a new program to help government health organizations and UN health agencies team up with developers so they can use the social network's messaging service to share accurate information and respond to people's questions. Developers will help these groups for free in the wake of the pandemic. 

Hoaxes and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus continue to spread on social networks, including Facebook and Twitter. False claims include that the coronavirus is caused by 5G or that drinking bleach is a cure for the illness. Misinformation has also spread in messaging apps including Facebook-owned WhatsApp, making it harder for social networks to find these type of messages. At the same time, as more people stay at home and practice social distancing, the social network has also seen an uptick in the use of Facebook's services including Messenger. 

The new program was introduced on the same day that Argentina's Ministry of Health and Ministry of Innovation said it's launching a new experience on Messenger to answer questions from the public and provide advice about the coronavirus. UNICEF, the Pakistan's Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination and other organizations are also using Messenger to provide coronavirus information. 

Facebook Messenger also teamed up with hackathon provider Devpost to create an online hackathon, encouraging developers to build tools on the messaging platform that tackle issues such as social distancing and education that have popped up because of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

Last week, Facebook launched a new coronavirus information center that will appear at the top of people's News Feed. WhatsApp also created a new information hub and donated $1 million grant to fight COVID-19-related fake news and misinformation to help the Poynter Institute's International Fact-Checking Network.