WhatsApp unveils $1M grant, info hub to fight coronavirus rumors

WhatsApp has long grappled with its platform being used to spread misinformation. In the latest move, today it announced two initiatives to fight specifically against fake news and other misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Facebook-owned instant messaging service announced the WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub — in partnership with the WHO, UNICEF, and UNDP — to offer simple, actionable guidance, general tips and resources for users around the world to be better informed about the disease and hence reduce the spread of rumors.

WhatsApp said it is working with the WHO and UNICEF to provide messaging hotlines for people around the world to use directly. These hotlines will provide information and will be listed on the WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub. It did not share exactly when the hotline will be ready for use.

The messaging firm said it is additionally donating $1 million to the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). The $1 million grant will help in fact-checking for the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, which spans more than 100 local organizations in at least 45 countries.

WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub

The grant will aim to train people to use the advanced features within WhatsApp Business, including the WhatsApp Business API. Expanding the presence of these IFCN certified fact-checking organizations could help ensure local communities are aware and responding to potential harmful rumors, the firm said.

The announcement today comes days after it became apparent that WhatsApp, which is used by more than 2 billion users, continues to face issues with how its platform is used to spread false information worldwide.

“We are also pleased to be able to partner with the Poynter Institute to help grow the amount of fact-checking organizations on WhatsApp and to support their life saving work to debunk rumors. We will also continue to work directly with health ministries around the world for them to provide updates right within WhatsApp,” said Will Cathcart, Head of WhatsApp, in a statement.

In a statement, Baybars Orsek, Director of IFCN, said, “the timely donation from WhatsApp will help the fact-checks published by the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance to reach wider audiences and, in consequence, help people sort facts from fiction during this avalanche of information that WHO called an ‘infodemic.’”

“The International Fact-Checking Network also looks forward to discovering ways to understand the spread of health related hoaxes on WhatsApp in different formats and to make tools available for fact-checkers to detect and debunk misinformation on the messaging app,” he added.

WhatsApp’s parent firm on Friday committed to match $20 million in donations to support global relief efforts for COVID-19 coronavirus. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, said the platform was committing $10 million for the United Nations Foundation (UNF) and World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and an additional $10 million for the CDC Foundation, which will launch its Facebook Fundraiser in the coming weeks.

On Tuesday, Facebook also said it planned to award $100 million in cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 small businesses in some 30 countries to address COVID-19’s economic impact.