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Coronavirus: WHO, Rakuten collaborate on anti-disinformation chatbot

The World Health Organisation and Rakuten Viber have built an interactive, multi-language chatbot to try to get on top of the growing problem of disinformation during the coronavirus pandemic

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Rakuten Viber, a voice-over-IP (VoIP) and messaging software firm, have released an interactive, multi-lingual chatbot to help in the fight against disinformation, fake news and conspiracy theories that have taken root as the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic spreads worldwide.

The chatbot is designed to help people looking for accurate health information and news related to the pandemic, highlighting the most commonly asked questions about the virus. It is available in Arabic, English and Russian, and will soon be translated into 20 more languages.

“WHO aims to reach as many people as possible with reliable health information through innovative digital technology. Information is power and can help save lives during this pandemic,” said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“We’re helping people stay connected while also assisting local and global government and healthcare agencies around the world to offer critical updates and to combat misinformation,” added Djamel Agaoua, CEO of Rakuten Viber. “Rakuten Viber and WHO are working together to help individuals and communities stay informed and healthy during this challenging time. Use the chatbot yourself, support and protect your relatives by sharing it with them. Digital is safe.”

Besides genuine medical information, the chatbot will draw legitimate, real-time news updates from the WHO itself into a “Latest News” section, and includes advice on how to protect yourself from the virus, how to use a face mask, travel recommendations and information, and an interactive quiz to test your knowledge of the disease.

It also includes the ability to donate to the WHO’s ongoing fight against the pandemic via its Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

Among some of the malicious falsehoods circulating about the coronavirus are that holding your breath for 10 seconds can help you tell whether or not you are infected, and that gargling with warm water can cure it, neither of which is true.

Other fantasists and scam artists have also seized on the pandemic as a means to propagate their own “pet” theories – one particularly creative example in circulation links coronavirus to the roll-out of 5G mobile networks.

Earlier this week, the UK government’s anti-disinformation Rapid Response Unit reported that it was dealing with multiple incidents of coronavirus-related disinformation.

The government is currently working with social media companies to try to address the problem, and is repurposing a previously successful public awareness campaign, called Don’t Feed the Beast to try to help.

It has also produced a checklist to help people identify whether or not something they have seen online is misleading or fake:

  • Source – make sure information comes from a trusted source.
  • Headline – always read beyond the headline.
  • Analyse – check the facts.
  • Retouched – does the image or video look as though it has been doctored?
  • Error – look out for bad grammar and spelling.

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