Apr 21, 2022 - Politics & Policy

California launches chatbot to combat COVID misinformation in Spanish

English, Spanish, and Vietnamese-language signage at a Covid-19 vaccination site at Disneyland
English, Spanish, and Vietnamese-language signage at a Covid-19 vaccination site at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, in Jan. 2021. Photo: Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

California's Department of Public Health announced Thursday that it has launched a Spanish- and English-language chatbot to help spread reliable information about COVID-19 and the safety of its vaccines.

Why it matters: The launch makes California the first state to try out a tool of this kind, the press release noted.

State of play: The free chatbot arises out of a partnership between the CDPH and WhatsApp, and is part of the state's efforts to combat misinformation surrounding COVID-19, per the press release.

  • The chatbot is specifically intended to reach the Latino community, and can also help users access information for booking vaccination appointments and obtaining vaccination records.
  • Will Cathcart, the head of Meta-owned WhatsApp, tweeted out a link to the new tools, writing that users can "get information in Spanish and English about COVID-19 vaccines by sending a message with the word “hola” to 833-422-1090."

What they're saying: "Partnerships like this one are one of the many ways Meta is helping to fight Spanish-language misinformation," Mona Pasquil Rogers, head of Meta State Policy in California, said in the press release.

  • "Our mission to keep California safe from the threat of COVID-19 is not over, and we must continue to keep our communities informed on how we can continue moving toward the new normal we all long for," Tomás Aragón, CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer, said in the press release.
  • "That is why we are meeting even more Californians where they are, and spend time every day, by presenting reliable, accurate information on a trusted platform and in the language they speak."

The big picture: A Nielsen report last year found that websites and apps more popular with Latinos in the U.S. than other groups make them more susceptible both to exposure to misinformation and to sharing it.

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