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New chatbot to combat misinformation in Spanish

The California Department Public Health and Meta announced a partnership to launch this program on WhatsApp becoming the first state to do so.
Posted at 6:18 PM, Apr 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-22 19:23:45-04

WhatsApp, a popular messaging app among Hispanics, owned by Meta, will answer COVID-19-related questions with the help of a chatbot thanks to a partnership with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

“The latest state information regarding COVID you can find it there, you can get information on the ingredients of the vaccine,” said Yurina Melara, CDPH’s Multiethnic Press Secretary for Multiethnic for California Vaccination Task Force.

Even instructions on how to make an appointment.

“It requires little to no bandwidth which makes this a platform where you can reach Latinos, you can reach Spanish speakers and you reach people across rural areas,” explained Adán Chávez, Meta’s Politics and Government Outreach Associate Manager.

Este reportaje está disponible en español a continuación

A 2021 Nielsen Report found that 69% of Hispanics between 18 and 34 use Instagram, 65% Facebook Messenger, 50% Snapchat And 47% use WhatsApp.

Jose Treviño said he uses the app mainly to talk to his parents in Mexico especially during emergencies.

“They might not have access to a computer or Wi-Fi but they do have access to their phones,” said Melara.

Statewide, Latinos led COVID-19 Statistics with 47% of confirmed cases and 43% of deaths, but they are not the ethnic group with the highest vaccination rates.

“For Latinos it is about 59%, so we know there are questions out there,” added Melara.

The organization First Draft analyzed Facebook, Twitter and Instagram Posts from November 2020 to November 2021 among the most shared topics were vaccine safety, alternative treatments and conspiracy theories.

Tech companies such as Meta, owners of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp have faced criticism over misinformation spread in Spanish, which is why they are making changes.

“If someone types COVID into the search bar the first thing that will populate is the COVID information center,” said Chávez. “This is a one-stop shop hub with all sorts of accurate and authoritative information about COVID.”

Gatekeeping strategies are also coming to WhatsApp.

“Allowing people to report messages to not allowing messages to be sent in mass to say for example, letting people know once a message has been forwarded too many times, restricting people to being able to forward a message just up to five times,” added Chávez.

The chatbot will answer questions in English and Spanish.

Treviño said that with his busy schedule this app could save him time finding all the information he needs in one spot.

CDPH said the information shared between the agency and user is confidential, but they ask people to not share personal information such as social security number or date of birth.

If you want to ask questions to this chat bot, all you need to do is download a QR code or text “HOLA” to 833-422-1090.

To download the QR Code, click here.