The original pitch

Hey all! I'm from Colombia, a country where WhatsApp is used for everything from chatting with friends to doing business. One of its more recent usages though is the spread of misinformation regarding COVID-19. One egregious example is a recommendation for people to "gargle boiling water and vinegar to kill the virus in their throats".

Stopping misinformation is hard and one way we can help is by promoting the spread of useful information. The Indian and UK governments have already deployed their own WhatsApp chatbot which lets people access official information. However, not every country or local government has the resources to go about setting up a chatbot for their community. Moreover, many governments have set up websites with information, but there are people whose data plans don't let them access anything beyond WhatsApp and Facebook which means that the information is not getting to them except through others.

I'm proposing to build an open platform that allows local governments and organisations to easily and with little tech-expertise set up their own chatbot where they can spread information about the situation. The main pillars of this platform should be:

Easy to set up, easy to seed with official national-level and international information Easy to customise with local information, for example regarding rules around how to get groceries during lockdown Available in as many languages as possible, as in many places the challenge is that a lot of information is in English but not in local languages

If you are interested in reducing misinformation, building infrastructure, chatbots or anything else, please do send me a message!

The technologies

In order to get up and running in a short time, we have built a solution based on an existing service for messaging solutions, Twilio. Twilio provides useful APIs which lets us offer chat-based information portals not only in WhatsApp but also via SMS and Facebook Messenger.

AWS is where our application is deployed. The architecture of the system is available at:

The content

We've been collaborating with some people in my hometown in Bucaramanga, Colombia to find out what are people's burning questions regarding the COVID-19, and specially what are the local information they are looking for.

Based on this data, we have seeded the current version of the information portal with the most requested information.

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