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India launches WhatsApp chatbot to create awareness about coronavirus, asks social media services to curb spread of misinformation – TechCrunch

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India is turning to WhatsApp, the most popular app in the country, to create awareness about the coronavirus pandemic and has urged social media services to tackle the spread of misinformation on their platforms.

Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, said on Saturday that citizens in the country can text a WhatsApp bot — called MyGov Corona Helpdesk — to get instant authoritative answers to their coronavirus queries such as the symptoms of the viral disease and how they could seek help.

An individual is required to text +919013151515 (or click on this shortcut link) to connect to the bot.

The bot was built by Mumbai-based firm Haptik Technologies, which local telecom giant Reliance Jio acquired last year, and the information is being provided by the nation’s Ministry of Health.

“The ‘MyGov Corona Helpdesk’ has been engineered to fight rumors, educate the masses and bring a sense of calm to the current chaos-like situation. We are committed to assisting the government with all our possible strengths and resources and hope that this chatbot can help the GoI spread the right information across the nation,” Aakrit Vaish, co-founder and chief executive of Haptik, told TechCrunch.

A screenshot of New Delhi’s WhatsApp bot

On Thursday, Modi urged the nation’s 1.3 billion citizens to stay at home as much as possible for the next few days to prevent any “explosion” of coronavirus cases.

“For the last few days we have seen that people think we are safe from coronavirus. This is not right. It’s not okay to get complacent,” he said in a nationwide televised appearance.

More than 250 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in India so far.

On Friday, India’s IT ministry issued an advisory to social media giants including Facebook, ByteDance, Twitter, and Sharechat, to take immediate actions to remove or disable fake content around coronavirus.

“Intermediaries are urged to initiate awareness campaign on their platforms for the users not to upload/ circulate any false news/misinformation concerning coronavirus which are likely to create panic among public and disturb the public order and social tranquility,” it said.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organization partnered with WhatsApp to create a helpline to provide people with accurate health information related to the coronavirus.

The WHO Health Alert provides tips on how people could protect themselves, the latest news updates and findings on the pandemic, and answers to some of the frequently asked questions. People can sign up to this bot by clicking here.

In a statement, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, said, “digital technology gives us an unprecedented opportunity for vital health information to go viral and spread faster than the pandemic, helping us save lives and protect the vulnerable. We are proud to have partners like Facebook and Whatsapp, that are supporting us in reaching billions of people with important health information.”

WhatsApp, which has been grappling with spread of rumors about the pandemic, began reaching out to dozens of governments last month to assist in their efforts to provide accurate information to the general public, it said.

“As part of our effort to make sure everyone has accurate and timely information about coronavirus, we’re working with the Indian government and national governments around the world,” said Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook.

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Trump’s chloroquine hype is a misinformation problem bigger than social media – The Verge

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Since late March, President Donald Trump has been promoting the antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as treatments for the novel coronavirus. Among other things, he’s described “strong, powerful signs” that the drugs work and called them potentially “one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine.” That will be fantastic if it proves true, but right now, we have no idea. As the hype around the drugs has grown, it’s demonstrated that disinformation isn’t always a social media problem. And it’s forcing platforms and traditional media to grapple with preventing powerful people, not just anonymous trolls, from twisting the truth.

Researchers are still testing hydroxychloroquine, also sold under the name Plaquenil, as a COVID-19 treatment. There’s been a study with tentatively positive results (and some serious limitations), but also a few studies that show little to no therapeutic effect. Proponents have offered anecdotes about people who tried hydroxychloroquine as an experimental treatment and recovered, but those don’t definitively tell us whether the drug was responsible, especially while researchers know so little about the disease. There’s even less evidence that the drugs prevent COVID-19, despite an assertion made by Trump and others in the White House that doctors recommend “taking it before the fact.”

These repeated promises aren’t simply missteps or honest mistakes; in fact, they conflict with messaging from Trump’s own coronavirus task force. And while the president has at least kept his statements relatively vague, the general rush to hype the drugs has come into direct conflict with platforms’ medical misinformation policies.

Twitter recently removed a video from Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who asserted that the drugs were “working in all cases.” (It also removed Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro’s claim about a virus-stopping “brew.”) It took down tweets from Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who called the treatment “100 percent effective” after touting a New York doctor’s dubious claims about a cure, and Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who misleadingly described a patient’s “Lazarus”-like recovery. Facebook also removed the Bolsonaro video and flagged the “100 percent effective” claim as false.

Web platforms often struggle to police rule-breaking posts by politicians. But as Bellingcat writes, these posts aren’t even a tricky moderation call: “doctors do not advise people to take chloroquine to treat or prevent the novel coronavirus, and so anyone saying otherwise is clearly spreading disinformation.” Services like Twitter and Facebook have typically given wide leeway to political figures, generously interpreting harassment or misinformation policies and — in Facebook’s case — arguing against fact-checking their ads. The coronavirus, however, has created a new sense of urgency and a greater threat of harm. Bad information about an ongoing pandemic can do immediate and tangible harm, so harsher moderation is easy to justify. But in this case, some of that misinformation is coming from the most powerful people in the world.

The bombastic promises about chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have the hallmarks of a medical advice post from a sketchy Facebook page, but they aren’t dredged from the depths of the web. Wired credits much of the drug’s prominence to a more moderate online proposal written by a blockchain investor and lawyer, then circulated by — among other people — Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. One of the authors discussed the drug on Fox News, where hosts like celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz have since promoted it more than 300 times by one count. Soon after that first appearance, Trump began talking about chloroquine. The hype got a little more pronounced with each step until it was not just a potential treatment but a nearly surefire cure.

Almost nobody in this saga fits the stereotype of a misinformation purveyor: someone who’s uninformed, undereducated, hopelessly internet-addled, a pill-hawking scammer, a Macedonian teenager, or a Russian troll. They’re successful businessmen, non-internet media, and the literal presidents of two countries. These are the metaphorical adults in the room — the categories of respectable gatekeepers who are supposed to be holding our consensus reality together. Instead, social media companies are taking the rare step of policing world leaders and other political figures.

Twitter and Facebook spent the past several months trying to lay out policies for when politicians could lie on their platforms. TV broadcasters — which hold themselves to much higher editorial standards — are now trying to draw their own lines. CNN and MSNBC started cutting away from Trump’s confusing and sometimes factually incorrect speeches when they go off-topic. Advocacy group Free Press submitted a scorched-earth complaint to the Federal Communications Commission, urging it to investigate stations airing Trump’s false statements under the “broadcast hoaxes” ban. (The FCC denied the petition, declaring that “we will not censor the news.”) The request echoed the common calls to make platforms ban misinformation — but for a medium that’s not usually seen as a target for regulation.

There are long-standing complaints about Trump distorting the truth and media inadvertently amplifying his false statements. But this is a clarifying moment for outlets that have struggled to differentiate misinformation from political spin because this premature hype for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine treatments is so sustained, specific, and potentially harmful. At best, it misinforms people during a crisis. At worst, it encourages taking drastic measures to get these drugs, leading to tragic mistakes. One man died last month when a couple drank fish tank cleaner containing non-medicinal chloroquine phosphate. According to his wife, they got the idea after watching the press conferences on television, where “Trump kept saying [chloroquine] was basically pretty much a cure.”

Lots of clearly false claims are still spreading and mutating primarily online, including people selling fraudulent cures that couldn’t possibly work, not just ones that haven’t been proven effective. The chloroquine story, though, demonstrates the limits of discussing misinformation as a social media or critical thinking problem. It’s not a case of online mob mentality or a new technology gone wrong. It’s an entire information ecosystem straining under a few powerful people’s deliberate disregard for the truth.

The idea of social media companies keeping elected officials and TV networks in check seems completely backward, but that’s what has happened here and probably not for the last time. It’s a blow to the idea that we can return from the chaos of social media to a simpler era of trustworthy, centralized media or authority figures. But it’s also a heartening sign that disinformation policies are getting applied to everyone — not just the less powerful.

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Support local media – Dan in Ottawa – Castanet.net

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Most elected officials learn to develop a thick skin as criticisms and personal insults/attacks are an unfortunate by-product of public office.

This situation occurs more if you are as active on social media as I am.

The reason I share this is related to recent criticism I received for my support for the compassion shown by West Kelowna to 19 foreign national farm workers who have tested positive for COVID-19.

My reason for sharing this is not over the criticism, but rather my concern.

To be clear, this situation is in not the fault of these workers.

When they arrived in Canada on March 12, there was no screening or travel restrictions at Canadian airports.

These workers didn’t receive any special instructions and, by extension, were uninformed.

This is due to a lack of leadership at our airports that fall under federal regulations.

This situation has demonstrated the critical need for screening and travel restriction at our borders and airports that for too long our Prime Minister refused to implement.

It is unfortunate that many provinces are now forced to supplement these efforts due to federal shortcomings.

For these farm workers, let us all remember that nobody wants to be sick with a potentially terminal virus in a country far from home.

I would like to commend the many citizens of West Kelowna who the Kelowna Capital News reports “reached out to offer help, food, or general support for our seasonal guest workers.”

It was further reported that this support has “helped with their morale and feeling of belonging in our community.”

On a personal note, I am very proud of the people of West Kelowna for their kindness and compassion.

Thank you.

We must also not overlook that in many countries we have Canadians who, because of COVID-19, are trapped and are desperately trying to come home.

Canadian trapped in this situation, in another country far from home, would, I am certain, want to be located in a compassionate, kind and welcoming community such as West Kelowna.

On a different but related note I know that, with so many currently laid off, many question why temporary farm workers from outside Canada are still needed on local farms.

While I do not speak for farmers, I do hear from them.

This season, there will be a significant labour shortage in many local farms and orchards and there will be many farm-related jobs available.

Already InfoNews has reported that a well-known Lake Country farm operation has received “hundreds of resumes” from laid-off workers after posting help-wanted ads.

Expect this trend to continue throughout the Okanagan.

I have purposely included references that these stories were reported by local news organizations.

Local journalism is critical to our communities. Local media report on your local council, regional district and school board meetings, as well as local volunteer initiatives and efforts.

Right now, supporting local news is vital.

If you have a subscription-based, local news source, please consider subscribing.

If you are in a position to advertise, now is a critical time to do so.

Two questions this week:

  • Will you support local journalism?
  • If so, how?

I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.

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Turkey will require social media giants to appoint local representatives: draft law – Reuters Canada

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will require foreign social media companies with high internet traffic to appoint a representative in the country to address concerns raised by authorities over content on their platforms, a draft law seen by Reuters showed on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: The Twitter logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Companies that do not comply with the new measure could face having their bandwith halved after 30 days by court order, and then slashed by 95% if they hold out another 30 days, it said.

The law will apply to social media networks accessed by more than 1 million people daily from Turkey, the draft law said.

Ankara strictly polices social media content, especially during periods such as military operations and the current coronavirus pandemic.

In the three weeks to April 6, more than 3,500 social media accounts were reviewed, 616 suspects were identified and 229 were detained for “provocative” social media posts, according to the Interior Ministry.

The new measures, which were included in a draft law mainly focused on economic measures to combat the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, sparked new worries among some social media users and analysts over the government tightening its grip on online content. The law is due to be sent to parliament next week.

Yaman Akdeniz, a cyber rights expert and professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, said if companies such as YouTube and Twitter do not designate a representative, they would gradually become unusable in Turkey as a result of the new measures.

“On the other hand, if these platforms do designate a representative in Turkey, access blocking, account closure and content removal will seriously increase,” he said, predicting that the law would likely result in more investigations and self-censorship.

Companies will need to respond to communications from the authorities about content within 72 hours and compile and notify officials of all removed or blocked content in three-month periods, the draft law said. The companies will also need to store data belonging to Turkish users within the country.

If companies fail to respond to requests within 72 hours, they will be fined up to 1 million lira ($148,000), while those who do not compile the removed or blocked content or do not store data in Turkey will be fined up to 5 million lira.

“Data being held in Turkey will allow Turkish authorities to access user information that they were not able to access, therefore will lead to an increase in investigations and prosecutions,” Akdeniz said.

Turkey had the second highest number of court orders of any country regarding Twitter in the first six months of 2019, according to data from the company, as well as the highest number of other legal demands during the same period.

Additional reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu, Editing by William Maclean

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