The efforts of social media platforms to clean up dangerous disinformation in English are not being replicated in other languages, especially Spanish, which can have detrimental and even fatal consequences for users of the platforms, advocates say.
Election disinformation can spark violence and suppress voter turnout, while disinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines can cost lives. But Carmen Scurato, associate legal director and senior advisor to media and technology justice organization Free Press, told Snopes in a telephone interview that advocates have started to notice a gap in the application of the platform’s policies. -form between English and Spanish which has become apparent in the run-up to the November 2020 elections.
That’s when Facebook started stating that it was removing content promoting “militarized social movementsÂ», Like Qanon.
âWhen we checked, using Facebook’s own search tools, we found the same content in Spanish, and that content had not been removed,â Scurato said. âWe noticed that when content was removed in English, the same content remained in Spanish. We would flag it for the company, and sometimes they would add a tag, sometimes they wouldn’t do anything. We continued to notice this discrepancy in moderation.
A year later, Free Press and other watchdogs were vindicated when Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen presented documents showing how she declared prior to Congress, that Facebook’s measures were not also being implemented:
âCurrently, they do not protect Spanish speakers to the same level as they do for English speakers. And this is unacceptable, âshe said.
This is how the Los Angeles Times describe the landscape of online disinformation ahead of the 2020 election in a November 2021 report:
Across the country, a deceptive media pipeline had spread lies and half-truths, in English and Spanish, into local Latin American communities. Sometimes the misinformation mirrored what the rest of the country was seeing: fear of mail-in ballots and anti-fa vigilantes, or deep state conspiracy theories and COVID-19. Other times it looked at concerns more specific to Latinos, like comparing candidate Joe Biden to Latin American dictators or claiming Black Lives Matter activists were using witchcraft – that is, witchcraft.
According to the Pew Research Center, when it comes to social media, people who identify as Hispanic massively use YouTube (85%) and Facebook (72%). Spanish speakers make up a significant portion of the American population. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States, with a valued 41 million speakers.
Jacobo Licona, disinformation researcher for Equis Labs, a polling company that focuses on the Latino community, told Snopes via email that Latinos have a strong tendency to get informed on social media platforms.
âYouTube is one of the main sources of political news for Latinos, with 64% of registered Latino voters claiming to have obtained electoral information from YouTube,â Licona said. “Latinos also spend twice as much time on YouTube as non-Latino adults. Related, half of Latinos in the US use WhatsApp, and Equis found that Latinos who hear from WhatsApp are the most likely to express worry on socialism.
A common problem researchers see is the cross-pollination of misinformation between platforms. Often times, Scurato said, a video containing disinformation in Spanish will be posted on YouTube, and then that video will be picked up and posted on Facebook or WhatsApp chat channels. (WhatsApp is a chat platform owned by Meta, the parent company that owns Facebook and other popular platforms, including Instagram.)
âThere was a while,â Scurato told us, âwhen they [the platforms] just need to commit to enforce their own policies and commit to enforcing them in all languages.
A Facebook post dated April 15, 2021, viewed by Snopes and archived here, has propagated the debunked conspiracy theory that billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates used COVID-19 vaccines to plant microchips in people. The message also imbued the vaccines with apocalyptic religious implications.
“Bill Gates is promoting the antichrist vaccine for all nations and then implementing the compulsory vaccination certificate, which means collecting biometric data from each inhabitant, this via an electronic chip called ID 2020 which would be the mark of the beast, “the Facebook post read in Spanish.
As of December 13, 2021, the post was still live and did not contain any tags flagging it as misinformation.
Kevin McAlister, spokesperson for Meta (parent company of Facebook), told Snopes in an email that 10 third parties fact checkers the company has entered into a contract with four fact-checking contents in Spanish.
In addition, the company said, Spanish is one of the “most resource-rich languages” when it comes to content review, as one of the languages ââmost commonly used by users of its platform. form. Meta employs native Spanish-speaking content reviewers based in the United States, while its artificial intelligence tools are constantly learning various slang and colloquialisms.
Meta also said it has stepped up efforts to tackle disinformation about COVID-19 in Spanish. This includes state-specific information for users with platform settings in Spanish and free announcements to public health organizations – like Johns Hopkins University, AARP, and the US Department of Health and Human Rights. Social services – who lead legitimate health information related to the pandemic to Spanish speakers.
YouTube spokesperson Elena Hernandez told Snopes in an emailed statement:
We are working diligently to tackle disinformation on YouTube in dozens of languages. We enforce our community guidelines globally, and our automated systems report non-compliant videos in multiple languages. More than 20,000 people around the world, many with expertise in Spanish and a language other than English, work to detect, review and remove content that violates our policies. We are also reducing limit content recommendations in each country where we operate. Our efforts in this space continue, we are always striving to update our systems and improve the platform to prevent the spread of harmful false information.
But Haugen said the issue isn’t whether platforms are investing in moderation of Spanish content; it’s if they invest enough.
Dr Ilan Shapiro, medical director of health and wellness education for AltaMed, a health care provider in Los Angeles and Orange counties, said he had noticed a recent improvement in rates vaccination in his Spanish-speaking patients. Now, he said, most of his patients come to his clinic after they’ve already been vaccinated.
He attributes the Success to field health education efforts by himself and other public health professionals.
âI think we are communicating enough information to the community for them to know if there is anything [they see online] it actually stinks, âShapiro told us over the phone. His website and social media channels, where he posts as “Dr. Shaps â, are dedicated to educating people, primarily in Spanish, about the pandemic and vaccines.
But it’s hard to keep up with misinformation online, he said, because it’s constantly changing.
âThe most important part is having conversations,â he said. âIt’s one of the most important things we need. “
Despite the positive trend, the damage may already be done. The pandemic has disproportionately affected Latino communities. Reuters reported that the electoral or political disinformation that flourished during the 2020 electoral cycle had the potential to affect the vote and even trigger violence.
“It’s definitely neglect,” Scurato said of the platforms’ handling of the crisis, describing it as “a deliberate disregard for the safety of linguistically diverse communities.”
Scurato said she believes there is an “opportunity” for Congress to write regulations that “require high levels of transparency regarding this type of content and how they apply their policies fairly. “.
Lopes, Luna, et al. âKFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: September 2021.â Kaiser Family Foundation, September 28, 2021, https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/poll-finding/kff-covid-19-vaccine -monitor-september-2021 /.
“Perspective | Misinformation online is bad in English. But it’s much worse in Spanish. Washington Post, October 28, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/10/28/misinformation-spanish-facebook-social-media/.
Contreras, Brian and Maloy Moore. “What Facebook knew about its Latin American misinformation problem.” Los Angeles Times, November 16, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/business/technology/story/2021-11-16/facebook-struggled-with-disinformation-targeted-at-latinos-leaked-documents-show.