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Facebook opens Messenger to help governments offer coronavirus advice

Steve Dent
Associate Editor
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Facebook Messenger is launching a program to help the UN and government health organizations share timely coronavirus information with the public. The idea is to connect Messenger developers with government organizations to develop create apps and bots, in order to share updates about the pandemic, answer commonly asked questions and more.

Argentina's Ministry of Health is one of the first to launch a Messenger experience using the new program. It enlisted Botmaker.com to create an app that can "answer questions from the public about coronavirus and ... provide fast, reliable and official advice 24 hours a day," Facebook wrote. It said that UNICEF and Pakistan's Ministry of National Health Services are also using Messenger to share COVID-19 information.

"The Messenger experience allows [us to] support and serve citizens seeking up to date information on the coronavirus, while keeping our helpline open for more critical cases," said a spokesperson for Pakistan's minister of health.

Facebook is also creating a hackathon, encouraging developers to create messaging solutions around COVID-19 issues like social distancing. Participants will work on local and global solutions and get access to educational materials, tutorials and more.

Along with Facebook's WhatsApp, Messenger is one of the most widely used messaging apps around the world with nearly 1.5 billion daily users. Since the service is free (if you have an internet connection), it's often preferred by users to text messages that can carry a heavy fee.

That has made those platforms a prime source for false or misleading information. To combat that, Facebook, along with Google, Twitter and other tech giants, agreed to block the spread of coronavirus misinformation while promoting accurate content from official sources. Last week, Facebook created a new coronavirus information center for its News Feed and launched a chatbot and hub for WhatsApp.