Lawmakers press messaging apps on efforts to combat disinformation campaigns targeted at Latinos

“Mis/disinformation disproportionately targets Spanish speaking communities in the United States, including campaigns during the 2020 presidential election and the COVID-19 vaccination effort, and across Latin America, where group messaging platforms like Telegram were used to spread mis/disinformation to influence the 2018 Brazilian election,” the statement said.

Luján and advocates have previously noted that while tech companies flag or remove English language posts, the same often doesn’t happen for Spanish-language versions of those posts. “The online activist group Avaaz found Facebook failed to issue warning labels on 70% of misinformation in Spanish, compared to only 29% in English,” Equis Research and Equis Labs co-founder Stephanie Valencia wrote inThe Washington Post last year.

Intentional mis/disinformation messaging has been worrisome enough that Latino voter registration organization Voto Latino and media watchdog Media Matters for America earlier this year launched an initiative targeting these campaigns. Voto Latino’s Maria Teresa Kumar noted how her mom initially refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19, citing misinformation that claimed the vaccines were unsafe. Luckily, she changed her mind after reviewing legitimate information. 

Though not named in the letters, the federal government’s use of the Wickr app has also recently come under scrutiny. Customs and Border Protection has a nearly $1,000,000 contract with the app, which in its unlimited form has the capability to automatically erase messages. While the department is using a version of the app that restricts who can delete messages, this nevertheless remains worrisome because CBP has an established history of protecting agents from accountability over their abuses.

Luján added that at the same time, these apps are critical tools for Latinos and Spanish-speakers, especially among younger people. “Latinos depend on these apps to communicate with their loved ones and communities,” he noted.

“Time and again, we’ve seen the continuous spread of flat-out lies that undermine trust in our democracy and public health,” Rep. Cárdenas said in the statement (click here for a full list of the nearly two dozen lawmakers). “It is painfully clear technology companies need to increase their resources to successfully monitor and stop the spread of disinformation on their platforms.”

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