Culture

Facebook Messenger introduces COVID-19 info hub amid traffic surge

Traffic is high. Business is bad. And COVID-19 controversies and misinformation are thriving.

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Ever since the coronavirus broke out around the world, Facebook has witnessed an overwhelming surge in user traffic crossing 50 percent. It hasn't helped business, the company laments, and it's been a source of troubling rumors about the pandemic. Voice and video calls on both Messenger and WhatsApp have also doubled, the company says.

As communication spikes, so does the potential for misinformation. To battle the spread of fake cures and medically false claims about the coronavirus, Facebook says it is launching an information hub about COVID-19 within its Messenger. It's meant for parents, educators, businesses, local community members, and pretty much anyone who relies on the app to talk to people.

Better late than never — Beginning March 26, Facebook Messenger will carry a Coronavirus Community Hub meant to display "tips and resources" on the issue so that you, your friends, and family members can access authentic, medically sound, and fact-checked information on the respiratory disease.

Facebook says that the purpose of the hub, in addition to keeping people connected on the matter, is to "prevent the spread of misinformation." But some may worry that the measure arrives at the eleventh hour as conspiracies, medically unsubstantiated "home remedies," and misinformation about the origin of COVID-19 are already flourishing all over Facebook Messenger as well as the Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

Mods are asleep, post fake news — Viral messages proselytizing the "efficiency" of fake treatments like drinking hot soup, avoiding cold beverages at all costs, or holding your breath for more than 15 seconds to see if you have the virus, are thriving on both Messenger and WhatsApp, among other corners of the internet. It's only recently that Facebook has amplified its efforts to combat dubious claims about the viral outbreak, including the addition of a COVID-19 information center on users' news feed. But it's had its share of mishaps, too. Last week, Facebook accidentally removed legitimate news sources on COVID-19 due to an apparent bug in its anti-spam filter.

Is this the cure? — In the spirit of being brutally honest, it's unlikely that a COVID-19 info-hub will cleanse the messaging platform of any and all infectious bouts of misinformation. Still, it is tremendously helpful and crucial to have these resources readily accessible and baked right into the app. By connecting government health organizations with Messenger developers, everyday users now have real-time access to important updates, resources, and tips. This should have happened weeks ago but now that it's finally here, take full advantage of it.