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Facebook launches a Messenger hub to inform users about coronavirus

Today, following the launch of a Facebook program that’s matching developers with organizations to build solutions that inform people about COVID-19, Facebook revealed the steps it’s taking to help Messenger users stay connected. Via a new hub — the Messenger Coronavirus Community Hub — the network is providing tips and resources to help users stay in touch with friends, family, colleagues, and community while preventing the spread of misinformation.

“Messenger helps you feel together with the people you care about, even when you can’t be together,” wrote Stan Chudnovsky in a blog post. “Around the world, we’ve seen significant increases in people using Messenger for group calls to stay in touch with their loved ones. Globally, 70% more people are participating in group video calls and time spent on group video calls has doubled. Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation with a friend or a video call with your extended family, Messenger can help keep you connected to your support system and help get us through these challenging times.”

Facebook says the hub will recommend activities like scheduling a virtual play date, connecting with kids’ teachers or other parents for school updates, and organizing group video chats or text groups. Additionally, it will highlight ways to identify false or misleading information about COVID-19, and it will suggest how to avoid online scams related to COVID-19 treatments or fundraising.

Separately, to limit the spread of misinformation about COVID-19, Facebook is exploring options like testing stricter limits for how many chats Messenger users can forward a message to at one time. The company has also banned ads for hand sanitizer, medical masks, and COVID-19 test kits in recent weeks.

“As this global public health crisis evolves, our mission to connect people around the world could not be more important,” said Chudnovsky. “We hope the hub can serve as a resource for people to help maintain their communities and social connections even when they can’t be together in-person.”

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The Messenger hub complements the coronavirus information center Facebook rolled out earlier this month, which collates sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and sits at the top of the news feed. It includes curated posts from politicians, journalists, and celebrities intended to spread useful health information.

Elsewhere, Facebook launched a WhatsApp information hub in partnership with the WHO, UNICEF, and UNDP to offer actionable guidance, advice, and resources to inform users about COVID-19. WhatsApp said that it’s working with the WHO and UNICEF to provide messaging hotlines for people to use directly.

Beyond its educational efforts, Facebook recently said it would roll out a $100 million grant program to assist 30,000 eligible small businesses in over 30 countries. It also teamed up with the WHO, Facebook, Microsoft, TikTok, and other health experts and tech companies to launch #BuildforCOVID19, a global hackathon that aims to find software solutions for challenges related to the novel coronavirus, and it donated $1 million to support the International Fact-Checking Network, a unit of the Poynter Institute dedicated to bringing together fact-checkers worldwide.