Medha Basu at GovInsider: “How do you communicate with citizens as a pandemic stirs fear and spreads false news? Singapore has trialled WhatsApp to give daily updates on the Covid-19 virus.
The World Health Organisation’s chief praised Singapore’s reaction to the outbreak. “We are very impressed with the efforts they are making to find every case, follow up with contacts, and stop transmission,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Since late January, the government has been providing two to three daily updates on cases via the messaging app. “Fake news is typically propagated through Whatsapp, so messaging with the same interface can help stem this flow,” Sarah Espaldon, Operations Marketing Manager from Singapore’s Open Government Products unit told GovInsider….
The niche system became newly vital as Covid-19 arrived, with fake news and fear following quickly in a nation that still remembers the fatal SARS outbreak of 2003. The tech had to be upgraded to ensure it could cope with new demand, and get information out rapidly before misinformation could sow discord.
The Open Government Products team used three tools to adapt Whatsapp and create a rapid information sharing system.
1. AI Translation
Singapore has four official languages – Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil. Government used an AI tool to rapidly translate the material from English, so that every community receives the information as quickly as possible.
An algorithm produces the initial draft of the translation, which is then vetted by civil servants before being sent out on WhatsApp. The AI was trained using text from local government communications so is able to translate references and names of Singapore government schemes. This project was built by the Ministry of Communication and Information and Agency for Science, Technology and Research in collaboration with GovTech.
2. Make it easy to sign up
People specify their desired language through an easy sign up form. Singapore used Form.Sg, a tool that allows officials to launch a new mailing list in 30 minutes and connect to other government systems. A government-built form ensures that data is end-to-end encrypted and connected to the government cloud.
3. Fast updates
The updates were initially too slow in reaching people. It took four hours to add new subscribers to the recipient list and the system could send only 10 messages per second. “With 500,000 subscribers, it would take almost 14 hours for the last person to get the message,” Espaldon says….(More)”.