Congressional leaders and advocates joined together demanding tech companies take action on Spanish-language disinformation. According to a panel of expert researchers, rampant false information on Facebook and other major platforms persist as similar information in English is removed.
Convened by the tech and civil rights organization Free Press, legislators and advocates gathered last Wednesday to lay out the current state of disinformation as it pertains to Spanish language content.
Sen. Ben Ray Lujan pointed out that platforms spend more resources rooting out misinformation in English but often overlook the same false information in Spanish. He also called out the ways in which trust, a foundational principle of democracy, has been under attack.
“Trust requires that the public know what these companies are doing to keep our community safe,” Lujan said. “A company must be accountable when its platform amplifies and promotes hateful content that targets a minority community and contributes to a violation of their fundamental civil rights.”
Free Press recently joined the Global Disinformation Index and SumOfUS in releasing a report on advertising placement next to COVID-19 disinformation in Spanish.
“Online disinformation creates real offline harms — as we have seen to great tragedy throughout the pandemic,” Clare Melford, co-founder and executive director at Global Disinformation Index, said in a statement. “One of the most powerful levers to stopping this is to cut the financial incentives driving this disinformation. Strong leadership from the Ad Tech industry is needed now. Concrete action and a whole-of-industry approach can create healthier information ecosystems and healthier communities.”
But also, large corporate brands have been advertising on disinformation sites without any regard for the division and distrust sowed by the websites. According to Free Press, AT&T, Adidas, Chipotle, and Panera Bread spent $12 million in 2021 to buy ad space on 56 Spanish-language websites featuring disinformation. Half of that ad revenue came from Google alone.
“Disinformation permeates every aspect of our society, playing on fears and pitting communities against each other and our democratic institutions,” Nora Benavidez, senior counsel and director, digital justice and civil rights at Free Press, said. “Where the pandemic is concerned, health disinformation truly has life-and-death consequences. Google is profiting off disinformation that kills people. The company must immediately stop featuring dangerous and misleading ads. This deceitful content harms millions of Spanish-language users who see these ads and shape their views based on lies fueled by corporate money.”