WhatsApp launches chatbot to bust fake news, allies with global group

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
Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which received a $1 million grant from WhatsApp to support fact checking on the messaging platform, launched its chatbot on WhatsApp on Monday. 

The IFCN bot has been built to address the challenge of misinformation, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, by connecting people with independent fact-checkers in more than 70 countries and also with the largest database of debunked falsehoods related to the new coronavirus, WhatsApp said in a statement. 

The bot will allow users to check whether a piece of content about Covid-19 has already been rated as false by professional fact-checkers.
Since January, more than 80 fact-checking organizations from 74 countries have identified more than 4,000 hoaxes related to the novel coronavirus. All this information now forms the CoronaVirusFacts
database and is updated daily by the IFCN so chatbot users can navigate and easily access its content.

"The timely donation by WhatsApp has helped the fact-checks published by the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance reach a wider audience and helped people sort fact from fiction during this avalanche of information that WHO (World Health Organisation) called an ‘infodemic.’ We hope that people in India and all over the world will use this service to check whether a piece of content about COVID-19 has already been checked by professional fact-checkers, and if it has been marked as false, they will not forward it to anyone, as they may previously have done, and in doing so, will halt the spread of misinformation," Baybars Örsek, Director, IFCN at the Poynter Institute, told Business Standard. 

In order to get started on the bot, users Users should save +1 (727) 2912606 as a contact number and text the word ‘hi’ to get the bot started. Alternatively, they can click here.

The IFCN chatbot has been built on the WhatsApp Business application program interface using Turn.io technology, the impact tool for WhatsApp. Turn helps social impact teams manage and scale personalized support without being overwhelmed. 

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. The person can then submit a piece of information for review directly to its local fact-checker or visit its website to learn more about what has been circulating in the region.

Initially, the IFCN bot will be available only in English, but other languages, including Hindi, Spanish and Portuguese, will follow soon, WhatsApp said in the statement. “WhatsApp recently provided a grant to Poynter’s IFCN to support the valuable work of its verified signatories around the world in combating COVID-19 misinformation...There are now more than 40 IFCN-verified fact-checkers around the world that are using the WhatsApp Business app to debunk coronavirus hoaxes for citizens in their respective countries," said Ben Supple, Public Policy Manager and Global Election Lead at WhatsApp. 

In response to a query on whether IFCN would consider partnering with government-based fact checking efforts like PIB Fact Check in India,  Örsek said ,"Today, we host 92 organizations from 48 different countries and they all have been certified as our verified signatories through a rigorous evaluation and vetting process. We strongly support governments working fact-checkers to help public to access accurate and fact-checked information. This collaboration becomes much more needed particularly during a crisis like this pandemic. However, our mandate is to work only with independent fact-checkers, that the output is not, in the view of the IFCN, controlled by the state, a political party, or politician."

Among the fact checking partners IFCN has in India are AltNews, India Today, Boom, Digit Eye, Fact Crescendo (Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam), Newschecker, Newsmobile and Vishvas News. 

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