WhatsApp is in talks to set up a dedicated NHS chatbot to allow people to access basic information about the coronavirus pandemic, sources with knowledge of the discussions told the Guardian, as the messaging service seeks to shed its growing reputation as a hub for disinformation about the pandemic.
Any NHS chatbot is likely to follow the same pattern as the one the World Health Organization launched on Friday, which gives people access up-to-date information about the virus and emoji-laden guidance on how to combat its spread through the messaging service.
WhatsApp sources said separately that it had also considered whether it should further limit the number of people and groups to whom a single message can be forwarded, but that no change was imminent. The service introduced a limit last year that prevents a single message or piece of content from being forwarded to more than five people or groups at a time in an attempt to reduce the spread of fake news.
WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, has become a major information source during the coronavirus crisis. It has proved a vital tool for coordinating community response efforts but also a breeding ground for unsourced claims about the pandemic and its impacts. The role reflects WhatsApp’s transition from a simple replacement app for text messaging into a de-facto social network built around groups of individuals who share similar interests.