Dem Lawmakers Urge Meta to Suppress Russian Disinformation in Spanish (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
By Jay Clemons | Wednesday, 20 April 2022 07:30 PM
A group of 21 Democratic lawmakers have queried Meta, the parent company of Facebook, about its handling of Spanish-language disinformation concerning Russia's war in Ukraine.
In a Wednesday letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the lawmakers expressed their disappointment regarding Meta's "lack of progress" in addressing Spanish-language disinformation across its various platforms.
"Since the beginning of the year, Russian state-controlled outlets have made a concentrated effort to target Spanish-speaking communities to spread false-narratives leading up to, and in the aftermath of, the invasion of Ukraine," the letter reads. "The viral spread of these narratives stands in stark contrast to assurances that Meta made to the public and Members of Congress."
The last note references a July 2021 meeting when members of Congress asked Facebook to provide "proof of investment" in its efforts to combat Spanish and other non-English language misinformation and disinformation on the platform.
And now, in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, which dates back to Feb. 24, Congress has once again raised concerns of "Kremlin-owned outlets … winning the information war with Spanish speakers."
According to Axios, Spanish-language misinformation on social media platforms has flourished in recent months, despite tech companies implementing substantive changes, such as adding more moderators, adopting stricter content rules, adding context labels, and blocking potentially offensive accounts.
"Latinos are increasingly turning to social media for news during the pandemic — including important elections where Spanish-language misinformation sometimes sits unchallenged, posing threats to health and democracies."
In its analysis of the 2020 U.S. election, the research firm Equis reportedly found that YouTube played a "significant role in convincing some Latino voters to support former President Donald Trump in higher percentages than expected by carefully targeting them."
Some might argue that's the whole point of campaigning for office: Drawing undecided voters to a particular side. For others, though, it's not so clear-cut.
"Every week that goes by without adequate action by these companies places our communities at greater risk of being exposed to misinformation," Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., recently told Axios.
Citing the Axios report, representatives from YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter have been quick to defend their practices in combatting Spanish-language misinformation.
And Kevin McAlister, a Facebook spokesperson, said the Meta/Facebook platform has "four fact-checking partners" in the United States. The overall mission: Reviewing and rating all Spanish content.
Regarding the congressional letter to Zuckerberg, the lawmakers are asking for policy changes or clarifications on a number of fronts:
- What steps will Meta take regarding the availability of Spanish-language outlets of Russian state-controlled media on its platforms?
- How have Meta's efforts to proactively detect and address Russian disinformation across languages changed after Russia's invasion of Ukraine?
- How is Meta preparing to proactively detect and address foreign disinformation operations targeted at Spanish-speaking communities for future elections within the United States, including the 2022 primaries and general election?
- What new steps has Meta taken to ensure the effectiveness of its algorithmic content detection policies to address disinformation and hate-speech across different languages?