Last year, US lawmakers urged the CEOs of big tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to do more to tackle misinformation being spread in Spanish, warning that inaccurate information on key issues such as vaccines and the presidential election were proliferating on their platforms.
“There is significant evidence that your Spanish moderation efforts are not keeping pace, with widespread accounts of viral content promoting human smuggling, vaccine hoaxes and election disinformation,” they said. said lawmakers. wrote in a July 2021 letter. “Congress has a moral duty to ensure that all social media users have equal access to truthful and trustworthy content, regardless of the language they speak at home. or that they use to communicate online.”
More than a year later, and with the midterm elections approaching, supporters say these social media platforms are still failing to police this content, especially when it comes to languages other than English.
With Spanish-speaking voters making up a significant portion of the American electorate—Latino voters made up the second-largest voting bloc in the 2020 presidential election—the failure to eradicate Spanish-language misinformation from social media platforms comes down to helping and to encourage disenfranchisement, said Mariana Ruiz Firmat, executive director of the nonprofit racial justice organization Kairos.
“This kind of nonchalant approach, where companies turn their heads away from the threat, shows how little they appreciate protecting or caring about Latinx users who rely on their platforms for crucial access to voting information. “said Ruiz Firmat.
Experts say misinformation stories in Spanish often mirror those seen in English, falling into two main categories: politics, or health and vaccines.
The most pressing narrative tracked by researchers is what is known as “the big lie” – the unsubstantiated claim that Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election.
This claim has become widely held on the right, with 70% of Republican voters backing the ‘stolen’ election theory, according to a recent Politifact study. And it continues to spread across social media, in English and Spanish, preemptively creating doubt about the legitimacy of the midterm vote and alarming pundits.
“When this lie proliferates, it undermines trust in democracy and reduces the likelihood that people will vote,” said Jessica J González, co-executive director of civil rights group Free Press. “People are less likely to vote if they think their vote doesn’t matter, their vote isn’t counted, or there’s major corruption and fraud in a system.”
An August report from Media matters to America discovered that many Spanish-language videos pushing the big lie were still available on social media platforms, despite policies banning them.
Report details infringing content, including baseless claims that voting machine issues in 2020 helped one candidate win a swing state, allegations of fake ballots set another candidate up for victory and other claims that deceased people voted in sufficient numbers to alter the results of the 2016 election.
Media Matters has identified three Spanish-language YouTube channels that have repeatedly violated content policies but remain online, with a combined subscriber count of more than 880,000.
Free Press and a coalition of other civil rights groups say they’ve been pushing big tech to take disinformation seriously in English and other languages for months, but have found companies aren’t responding enough quickly or sufficiently thoroughly.
González says his anti-disinformation coalition Change the Terms has tried to engage with big tech companies such as Meta, TikTok and YouTube parent Google over Spanish disinformation on their platforms – but hasn’t seen enough concrete action.
Specifically, the group asked YouTube for more information about how it monitors Spanish election disinformation and claims it hasn’t received it, and asked Facebook to outright ban theories that the 2020 election was stolen from its platforms. The platform failed, according to advocates.
In fact, many theories published in 2020 remain prevalent on major platforms, said Jacobo Licona, head of misinformation research for Equis Labs, a polling firm focused on Latino voters.
“There are still Spanish-language posts active today from November 2020 that promote election lies without warning labels,” he said. “A lot of those stories get recycled, and a lot of the original stories persist.”
The continued proliferation of misinformation in Spanish is due, at least in part, to a lack of investment, experts say — including a failure to hire human moderators fluent in those languages or train artificial intelligence on languages.
In 2021, former Facebook employee turned whistleblower Frances Haugen confirmed in a congressional hearing that the platform invests significantly in moderation in the United States, but that 87% of Facebook’s misinformation spending is on content. in English, while only 9% of users are English-speaking.
“Facebook invests more in users who make them more money, although the danger may not be evenly distributed based on profitability,” Haugen told lawmakers.
An internal Facebook memo posted by Haugen revealed the company rated its ability to detect anti-vaccine rhetoric and misinformation as “fundamentally non-existent” in non-English comments. Facebook has since made improvements to Spanish models for predicting misinformation, Meta spokesperson Aaron Simpson said, and they are now working at a similar level of accuracy to English for content the company sends to fact-checkers. facts for review.
Tech companies say they are working to resolve these discrepancies before the midterms, with measures to tackle misinformation, including in Spanish.
Facebook has made improvements to Spain’s misinformation prediction models since the Haugen revelations, Meta spokesman Aaron Simpson said, and Meta, Facebook’s parent company, is now working at a similar level of accuracy to the ‘English.
The company says it works with 90 independent fact-checking organizations around the world to review and assess viral misinformation in more than 60 languages on Facebook and Instagram. Of the 11 companies he works with in the United States, six review content in Spanish, Simpson said.
“We’ve invested heavily in tackling misinformation in Spanish on our platforms, and that reflects our strategy for tackling misinformation in English,” Simpson said. “We’re removing voter interference content in Spanish and connecting people with authoritative information in Spanish through our Vote Alerts and Vote Information Center.”
Meta has also invested $5 million in pre-midcourse media literacy initiatives, including post-application WhatsApp fact-checking services. was identified as a big source of misinformation in 2020.
YouTube says it applies its disinformation policies globally, “and we apply them consistently regardless of language,” according to spokeswoman Elena Hernandez.
youtube too employs humans to help its artificial intelligence-based moderation system, with more than 20,000 people worldwide working to review and remove content that violates its policies, including Spanish-speaking employees, Hernandez said. She declined to share the number of employees able to moderate languages other than English.
Twitter works with organizations such as the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed and Mi Familia Vota to promote voter registration, a spokesperson said, in addition to disinformation efforts in English and Spanish. It is also working with the Spanish Language Disinformation Coalition to inform its policies on disinformation ahead of midterms.
“Our goal is to preserve space for in-depth debate while ensuring people have the context and control they need to make informed decisions about the content and accounts they see and interact with on Twitter. “said Twitter spokeswoman Lauren Alexander.
Twitter declined to share how many human moderators it employs, or how many speak Spanish.
Meanwhile, TikTok has launched an election hub in more than 45 languages to flag inaccurate content and connect users to authoritative information, said Ben Rathe, a TikTok spokesperson.
“We take our responsibility to protect the integrity of our platform and our elections very seriously,” he said. He declined to share how many human moderators the company employs.