An analysis by NewsGuard's new Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center revealed that as the COVID-19 pandemic grows, information and disinformation spread even faster across the globe. In some cases, the center has detected information with false content related to health, political conspiracy theories and even sites that promote the ignition of chlorine or colloidal silver to "prevent" COVID-19, when in reality these remedies go against people's health.
Several efforts have been made by some social networks to stop the spread of fake news. Earlier today, WhatsApp announced that it has released a chatbot information verifier in Spanish backed by the International Data Verification Network (IFCN) to combat disinformation related to COVID-19, according to a note from news site Expansión.
Chatbots are conversational and intelligent software agents that use natural language and machine learning to engage in conversations and in some cases perform tasks, according to an article by researchers Radziwill and Morgan Benton of Cornell University in the US. WhatsApp’s chatbot will be available in eight countries in Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela, in addition to Spain.
Years ago, the idea of chatbots was seen as a distant technology. Today it has become part of the mainstream. “Today, when you say the word chatbot people know what we are referring to,” said Eduardo Farina, Director General BlueMessaging in an interview with MBN. “The use of social media and different digital channels has potentialized the adoption of these solutions, since they already provide the infrastructure for this technology to work,” he continued. To use WhatsApp’s chabot, it is necessary to save the number (+1 (727) 291-2606) as a contact and send a message with the word "Hola" (hello). Once the message is sent, the chatbot uses the user's local code to detect which country it is sent from and to ensure that the person only reviews verified local information.
Despite the benefits of social media, these have become a double-edged sword in the fight against fake news. Social networks have been the largest medium to spread fake news in the country. In fact, Mexico ranks second worldwide in fake news generation after Turkey, according to Luis Ángel Hurtado, co-creator of the recent study “X-ray of the spread of fake news in Mexico” and professor-researcher at the School of Political and Social Sciences (FCPyS) of UNAM. The study found that more than 90 percent of those interviewed reported receiving fake news about COVID-19 via Whatsapp. An alarming figure, given that Mark Zuckerberg reported last year that WhatsApp has more than 1.5 billion users worldwide who send more than 60 billion messages a day, according to a note from La Vanguardia.