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Coronavirus: WhatsApp bids to stop its platform being used to spread COVID-19 lies

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By Euronews
WhatsApp is being used to spread misinformation about the coronavirus outbreak
WhatsApp is being used to spread misinformation about the coronavirus outbreak   -   Copyright  Patrick Sison/Patrick Sison

Messaging service WhatsApp has moved to stop its platform being used to spread misinformation about the coronavirus.

The Facebook-owned app had been used to spread false rumours during the COVID-19 pandemic, often in the form of anonymous voice and text messages.

In one recent example, a false voice message was shared on WhatsApp claiming that researchers at the Medical University of Vienna had found a link between ibuprofen and more severe symptoms of Coronavirus.

In a statement to Euronews, WhatsApp say they are “committed” to tackling viral messages and have reduced the number of chats that messages can be forwarded to at once.

"We encourage all users to check the facts online before sharing messages that have been forwarded to them, and we encourage users to engage directly with trusted and official sources for important information.”

On Wednesday, WhatsApp unveiled its Coronavirus Information Hub worldwide, which aims to “provide simple, actionable guidance” for health workers, governments and businesses which rely on the software.

Resources will also be available to users to “reduce the spread of rumours and connect with accurate health information".

The move is in partnership with the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the United Nations Development Programme.

WhatsApp announced they will also donate $1,000,000 (€900,000) to the independent Poynter Institute's International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).

The grant is intended to support the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, which spans more than 100 local organisations in at least 45 countries.

“We know that our users are reaching out on WhatsApp more than ever at this time of crisis, whether it’s to friends and loved ones, doctors to patients, or teachers to students,” said Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp.

“We wanted to provide a simple resource that can help connect people at this time.”

Cathcart added that WhatsApp was pleased to help support the IFCN and their “life-saving work to debunk rumours”.

The company has also engaged with worldwide health ministries, including Brazil, Israel and Singapore, to assist and provide accurate information to the public.