Messaging apps are under scrutiny by lawmakers for Spanish misinformation

A congressional effort to crack down on misinformation in Spanish is expanding to include popular messaging platforms.

Democrats are probing social media companies for misinformation being spread on their platforms as analysts warn that fake posts online are eroding trust in the country’s electoral system, undermining public health efforts and stoking violence.

WhatsApp Inc. of Meta Platforms Inc., Telegram Group Inc. and Signal, providers of encrypted instant messaging services, heard Monday from 23 Democratic lawmakers asking for information on the companies’ efforts to combat misinformation targeted at Latino communities. .

“We have a heavy responsibility to ensure that big tech companies and group messaging apps take the necessary steps to insulate our democracy and our democratic institutions from bad actors bent on destroying our great American experiment,” the senator said. . Bob Mendez (DN.J.) said in a government statement to Bloomberg. “I am more committed than ever to working with these companies, as well as holding them accountable when needed.”

Photographer: Denis Charlet/AFP via Getty Images

This March 23, 2022, a photograph shows the WhatsApp logo displayed on a tablet in Lille, in the north of France.

Meta and Signal did not immediately respond to a request for comment; Telegram could not be reached for comment.

In letters led by Menendez, Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (DN.M.), and Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.), lawmakers emphasized that companies need not compromise user privacy or the integrity of private communications when tackling the spread of misinformation in Spanish. Companies should increase access to fact-checking organizations in all languages ​​and hire staff with the “necessary cultural background” to counter misinformation in Spanish, the lawmakers wrote.

Lawmakers also probed Twitter Inc. and TikTok’s handling of false information in Spanish during a meeting last week.

Twitter and TikTok pressure anti-misinformation efforts

whatsapp in spanish

Misinformation in Spanish is considered more prevalent because it goes unchecked longer and targets a population that tends to be more online. Among Latino respondents whose primary home language is Spanish, 66% received misleading or harmful information about the coronavirus vaccine through messaging apps, according to a 2021 poll by Change Research.

WhatsApp is especially popular among Latinos who use it to communicate with family and friends abroad. About half of Latinos in the United States use it, more than any other ethnic or racial group in the country, according to Equis, a research organization focused on Latin American communities.

WhatsApp has partnered with Univision to provide verified information. Users can send audio, images or text that they find suspicious to a WhatsApp number and fact checkers will verify it.

But lawmakers said ‘critical gaps’ remained, pointing to claims by Spanish content moderators that they are not paid as well as other bilingual moderators and are not taken seriously when raising concerns about their working conditions.

“These issues reinforce our concerns that your efforts to address misinformation for your Spanish-speaking users are not an internal priority at WhatsApp or Meta,” the lawmakers wrote.

Lawmakers have also expressed concern over Telegram because it allows up to 200,000 people to be in a group, making it an attractive platform for bad actors to quickly spread misinformation to mass audiences. WhatsApp allows up to 256 people; The signal allows up to 1000.

The companies have until June 13 to answer a series of questions, including what resources they have dedicated to fighting misinformation in Spanish and what metrics they use to gauge the success of their programs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Curi in washington at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage to [email protected]; Robin Meszoly to [email protected]

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