Social media giant Facebook is offering free developer resources to governments looking to use its messenger service as a coronavirus response.
“[W]e’re launching a global program to connect government health organizations and UN health agencies with developers that can help them use Messenger most effectively to share timely and accurate information, and speed up their responses to concerned citizens,” Stan Chudnovsky, VP of Messenger, wrote in a blog post announcing the news.
Developers can assist governments automating frequently-asked-question responses, sending out alerts to certain populations and transitioning from automated messaging to a human operator, according to the post.
Facebook is already working with Argentina and Pakistan on coronavirus-specific messenger tools.
The company is also launching a virtual hackathon framed around developers using the messaging feature in order to create tools to address the coronavirus, and in particular social issues. Prizes for the winners include mentoring by Facebook engineers, a trip to F8 2020 and the chance to participate in the F8 hackathon.
WHY IT MATTERS
The number of coronavirus cases worldwide has reached 292,142, according to the World Health Organization.
Across the world, governments are racing to respond to the virus. Apps and smartphone tools are popular ways that government organizations are informing and also tracking the public.
Last week, Singapore announced the launch of a mobile app called TraceTogether to help support and supplement current contact-tracing efforts in the nation-state in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In February, the Chinese government also released an app intended to help citizens check whether they came into contact with the virus.
“Given the need to share timely information about the coronavirus is critical to keeping communities safe and informed, we are also making it possible for government health organizations and UN health agencies to proactively send important updates related to COVID-19 to people already messaging them,” Chudnovsky wrote.
THE LARGER TREND
Some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names have become involved in tackling the coronavirus. Facebook already pledged to remove false claims and conspiracy theories about the disease posted on its social media platforms. It said it’s working with a network of third-party fact-checkers to review information. If a piece of information is rated as false, the company pledges to limit its spread on Facebook and Instagram.
The UK’s National Health Services is working with Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to provide the public with accurate information about COVID-19 and prevent the spread of “fake news.”
Google plans on providing verified, easy-to-access NHS guidance when someone searches for information on the virus, while both Twitter and Facebook are directing users to the NHS website.