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Facebook aims its Messenger at coronavirus battle

An empty shuttle bus pulls into a mostly deserted Facebook campus in the Silicon Valley city of Menlo Park on March 12, 2020, as tech titans asks employees to work from home to fight the spread of novel coronavirus. – Tech-savvy Silicon Valley is joining the trend of remote work and classes as people seek to contain the fast-growing disease, relying on many of the technologies invented or refined in the area. (Photo by Glenn CHAPMAN / AFP)

Facebook on Monday began enlisting outside developers to create ways its Messenger service can help health organizations battling the novel coronavirus.

The social network also invited software savants to take part in an online “hackathon” aimed at creating ways to use Messenger to ease social-distancing and deliver accurate information about the pandemic, according to Messenger vice president Stan Chudnovsky in a blog post.

He unveiled a global program intended to connect government health organizations and UN agencies with developers who can create ways to use Messenger share accurate information and speed up responses to people’s questions.

Software makers, for example, could help agencies automate answering common questions, to allow staff to tackle more challenging tasks.

Developers can also help organizations use software to quickly distribute updated information.

UNICEF and Pakistan’s Ministry of National Health already uses Messenger to keep people posted about COVID-19, according to the Facebook-owned messaging platform.

Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp recently launched a free World Health Organization alert designed to answer questions about the coronavirus and debunk “coronavirus myths.”

The service, launching in English, is to expand in coming weeks to include Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish.

WhatsApp last week launched a Coronavirus Information Hub in partnership with WHO and United Nations organizations.

WhatsApp, which claims more than a billion users, issued a $1 million grant to an International Fact-Checking Network alliance devoted to reporting on coronavirus rumours spreading on messaging services.

“We think the most important step WhatsApp can take is to help connect people directly with public health officials providing crucial updates about coronavirus,” spokesman Carl Woog told AFP.

Concerns have been raised about WhatsApp and other messaging services being used to spread bogus information about coronavirus.

WhatsApp software prevents users from blasting messages to massive numbers of people at once, which tends to be a spam tactic.

The service also labels forwarded or chain messages to show people they did not come directly from a friend or family member.

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