The launch of the UK government’s new WhatsApp ‘chatbot’ service designed to “combat the spread of coronavirus misinformation” got off to an embarrassing start, with claims that it “didn’t seem to work.”
Billed as a simple, free way to receive official government advice on the Covid-19 outbreak through the popular chat app – owned by Facebook – it was designed to help ensure that people stay at home and to relieve pressure on the National Health Service.
However, the Guardian’s media editor Jim Waterson reported on social media that the service had encountered operational issues on Wednesday – launch day.
Waterson posted a screenshot of his interaction with the chatbot, which didn’t appear to respond positively to the journalist’s commands. CNBC International’s tech reporter Ryan Browne also claimed to face similar issues, tweeting “At least you got a reply!” in response to Waterson.
The government has now launched its Coronavirus WhatsApp chatbot, as we revealed last week… unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work. https://t.co/vKwv8boYKN pic.twitter.com/JFmHXW2ZRg— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) March 25, 2020
At least you got a reply! pic.twitter.com/Sm3mz7oLXp— Ryan Browne (@Ryan_Browne_) March 25, 2020
Waterson’s tweet prompted some to joke that the chatbot service was behaving “[a bit] like the government itself.”
The service – which will allow the government to send alerts to all opted-in users – has previously been hailed by Matt Idema, WhatsApp’s chief operating officer. He proudly claimed that the communications tools they provide would help the government “answer the public’s questions about the virus with reliable, timely health advice, in order to keep people safe.”
It appears they may need to work on the “reliable” and “timely” parts of their service.
The @cabinetofficeuk earlier announced a new chatbot to answer basic questions on #coronavirus. You’re supposed to type “hi” in WhatsApp and a menu of options should then appear. Methinks it has teething problems…. (5 other colleagues had a similar result) pic.twitter.com/UMojxCKwDK— Alex Morales (@AlexJFMorales) March 25, 2020
Earlier, it was revealed that Prince Charles had tested positive for coronavirus, suffering mild symptoms. The Prince of Wales is self-isolating at his home in Scotland with his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall – who does not have the virus.
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After passing emergency laws, the House of Commons will now vote on whether to shut down Parliament earlier than the planned Easter break on March 31. The motion is expected to pass unopposed.
Britain currently has over 8,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with 437 deaths.
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