A new WhatsApp bot has been launched by the International Fact-Checking Network to curb the spread of COVID-19 misinformation. This chat bot is educated with 4,000 debunked hoaxes, and is able to easily check whether a piece of news about COVID-19 is false or not. This new service aims to help users identify fake news, and thereby prevent its spread. WhatsApp has already taken several measures to control this misinformation spread, and it recently even reduced the limit of spreading frequently forwarded messages. WhatApp claims there has been a 70 percent reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages, after this limit was enforced.
Coming back to the new IFCN WhatsApp chat bot, it is absolutely free to use, and WhatsApp users will have to save the number +1 (727) 2912606 as a contact to begin using the service. Once you save the number, send a ‘hi’ to the bot, and wait for an automated message to come by. The bot throws a message that claims to offer service 24×7 in order to bust myths and check facts about COVID-19. Users are then asked to choose between several options –
- Search for fact checks
- Latest fact checks
- Tips to fight misinformation
- Find fact-checkers near me
- About us
Type the number assigned to these options to navigate further. For instance, if you type 1, then the bot will ask you to send a short sentence related to the fact you want to check. If you’ve read rumours about garlic, type garlic or a short sentence like, ‘Does eating garlic cure coronavirus?’ Once you enter your query, IFCN will look through its database to see all relevant claims surrounding the topic and present the top two results. Sending a ‘+’ sign will offer two more search results.
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Similarly, typing 3 will offer useful tips to fight misinformation like checking the source and trying out tools like Google reverse image search. There’s one tip that is very apt: “Trust scientists before politicians.”
Sending 4 to the bot will bring up a list of fact checkers in the country. The system is capable of identifying the user’s country via the person’s mobile country code and then providing them with their closest fact-checking organizations. So for India, you’ll see a list of 12 organisations that are a part of the IFCN network. This includes FactCrescendo Malayalam, NewMobile, Newschecker, India Today, and many more. One can then submit a piece of information for review directly to its local fact-checker to learn more about what has been circulating in the region. With the amount of false information spreading around about COVID-19, this tool could act as a guiding force for all WhatsApp users.
The IFCN bot is currently available only in English, but support for languages like Hindi, Spanish and Portuguese will follow soon. Poynter Institute’s IFCN chat bot has data from more than 80 fact-checking organizations across 74 countries. As mentioned, these organisations have identified more than 4,000 hoaxes related to the novel coronavirus, and this forms as the CoronaVirusFacts database, which is updated on a daily basis.
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