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Facebook announces coronavirus small business grants

Audrey Conklin

Facebook has rolled out a $100 million grant program and other initiatives to help combat the novel coronavirus.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussed the company's programs during a Wednesday conference call. The social media leader's No. 1 priority is to stop the spread of misinformation on its services, including Instagram and WhatsApp, he said.

"In a time of a disaster, or when people can't be together with friends and family in person ... people really rely on social and communication services," Zuckerberg said during the call.

He added that Facebook is "certainly seeing some surges in uses of the different services in different areas, especially those that are most affected."

The $100 million initiative that was announced Tuesday, and the money will go toward 30,000 eligible small businesses around the globe in the form of cash and ad credits. Applications will be open in the coming weeks.

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"We really believe in focusing on empowering individuals and small businesses," Zuckerberg said, adding that small businesses are responsible for powering the global economy and local communities.

Funds could be used to pay rent, operational costs and connecting with more customers.

"We're very focused on the economic response," he continued. "It's not just going to be a health crisis. It's going to be a major economic shock."

The Facebook founder said the number of phone calls being made on its private messaging app, WhatsApp, are more than double what they normally are, and the company recognizes how many people across the globe are going to Facebook to get their news about the virus.

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Facebook is already partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization to put their information before others, and it has also offered other grants outside the $100 million initiative.

On top of these efforts, the social media site is also opening a new information center, expanding the website's capabilities to government and health officials and launching a "hub" for health workers, educators and small businesses on WhatsApp.

First, Facebook is opening a "Coronavirus Information Center" that will ""put authoritative information from the CDC and WHO in our services" at the top of people's Facebook pages and apps.

Facebook has partnered with national, state and local governments in its effort to open the center on a global scale. The center will be promoted at the top of the Facebook app in Italy, France, Spain, Germany, the United States and United Kingdom first. During the "next few days," it will be expanded "more broadly," Zuckerberg told reporters.

He added that the center will include important information about best practices to contain the virus, adding that the "broad consensus" is to "make sure people take social distancing seriously."

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Second, Facebook will be opening "Workplace," its online workplace communication tool, to governments and emergency services for free during the next 12 months.

Zuckerberg said he thinks governments and emergency services may find the app useful in terms of organizing workplace duties and communication.

Facebook also announced that WhatsApp is introducing a "hub for health workers, educators, small businesses and others" on the mobile messaging platform to promote the spread of authoritative information and new ideas or information that could help contain the virus.

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