whatsapp fake news fact check

Image credit: Cheryl Kahla/TheSouthAfrican.com

You can now fact-check COVID-19 messages on WhatsApp – Here’s how

WhatsApp partnered with the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and the Poynter Institute to create a chatbot for keeping users informed about COVID-19.

whatsapp fake news fact check

Image credit: Cheryl Kahla/TheSouthAfrican.com

We’ve all received those voice notes and questionable chain-mail messages forwarded to entire contact lists on WhatsApp without nary a thought for the veracity of said message.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, has now tightened its reins when it comes to the spreading of fake news on the world’s most popular chat app.

WhatsApp partnered with the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and the Poynter Institute and created a chatbot to keep users informed about COVID-19. Baybars Orsek, IFCN’s Director said in a statement:

“Billions of users rely on WhatsApp to stay in touch with their friends and families every month. Since bad actors use every single platform to disseminate falsehoods, to mislead others during such troubling times, fact-checkers’ work is more important than ever.”

The app is easy enough to use, I’ve included screenshots below. Here’s how to get the best out of the fact-checking app on WhatsApp.

WhatsApp fact-checking chatbot: What you need to know

How to get started

First, save this number to your contacts: +1 (727) 2912606. Better yet, simply click this link to go directly to the IFCN Fact-Checking chatbot.

Then all you have to do, is type “Hi” to trigger the chatbot’s greeting and main menu. According to the bot, it’s available “24/7 to bust myths and check facts about COVID-19”.

You will then be asked to choose between several options:

  1. Search for fact checks
  2. Latest fact checks
  3. Tips to fight misinformation
  4. Find fact-checkers near me
  5. About us
  6. Privacy

How to access fact-check reports

In the example below, I chose the second option, Latest fact checks, and was provided with two articles. The first was fact-checked by Africa Check, about a graphic video showing dozens of dead bodies. The caption explained:

“A graphic video shows dozens of dead bodies washed onto a beach. These are Covid-19 infected dead bodies, which some countries are throwing into the seas. Users are warned to stop eating seafood.”

This was deemed false; the video was taken in 2014 and showed the bodies of African migrants, reportedly headed to Europe, who drowned when their boat sank off the coast of Libya.

How to search for facts

If you select the first option, to Search for fact checks, the bot will ask you to send a short sentence related to the fact you want to check, and the bot will send back the top 2 results from the IFCN’s database.

For example, typing “does 5G cause coronavirus” brought up a result from AFP fact-checked on 26 March 2020 which states that this claim is false because “5G is based on radio frequency and that this does not create viruses.”

It also provided a link to the AFP article, which can be read here. It lists that COVID-19 is currently in countries with no 5G coverage, along with other facts related to the topic.

Chatbot limitations

The phrases have to be short because complicated messages will confuse the bot. In addition, the service is only available in English for now. The IFCN said that it is trying to expand its databases and improve the service.

Furthermore, the app was created solely to debunk COVID-19 related fake news. If you enter any other search terms, the bot will find the closest COVID-19 related topic and send that back.

I asked the chatbot if David Icke was a reptilian, and the chatbot send back two articles about vaccine research, which either had the words reptile or David in the text. It’s quite impressive.

Whatsapp fact checking large
Image credit: Cheryl Kahla/TheSouthAfrican.com