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“Ya Basta.” A New Coalition Calls on Facebook to Tackle the Spanish Misinformation Crisis

6 minute read

Over the past year, Facebook has taken the most aggressive actions in the company’s history to curb dangerous content. It has attached warning labels to misleading and false COVID-19 and election posts, changed its algorithms to prioritize credible news sources, banned conspiracy and hate groups, and even de-platformed high-profile figures for spreading lies or inciting violence, including former President Donald Trump.

But the company is failing to enforce the same measures when it comes to Spanish-language posts, allowing rampant disinformation campaigns to continue to target Hispanic communities in the U.S, according to nonprofits that track such content. Now, a coalition of media advocacy groups, civil rights organizations and lawmakers is demanding that Facebook take concrete steps to enforce its rules as effectively and consistently to dangerous Spanish misinformation as it does in English through a campaign they are calling “Ya Basta, Facebook”—using the common phrase “enough already.”

“There is no excuse for lackluster content moderation in Spanish,” Jessica González, who leads public-interest advocacy group Free Press, said on Tuesday. “Facebook has been on notice and has decided to profit off hate and lies instead of keeping people safe and informed.”

There are roughly 41 million native Spanish speakers in the country, and millions more consume Spanish language content. Over the past year, Latino communities have been disproportionately targeted by online disinformation campaigns, from COVID-19 conspiracies and lies about the vaccines to political fake news intended to suppress voter turnout, especially in critical battleground states such as Texas, Florida, and Arizona. Ahead of the 2020 elections, for instance, these disinformation efforts took advantage of existing fears in immigrant communities to paint then-candidate Joe Biden as a socialist, and to target Hispanic Catholics with false claims that he would make abortion up to birth “the law of the land.”

“It’s bad enough in English, but when it comes to Spanish they’re doing almost nothing,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas, a California Democrat who joined the rollout of the “Ya Basta Facebook” campaign on Tuesday, tells TIME. “And it’s going to get worse exponentially…unless we have more responsibility from the private entities who run these platforms, we’re just going to see another gross manipulation in the next election cycle.”

The new coalition, which includes Free Press, the Center for American Progress, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and a vocal collective of critics that calls itself the Real Facebook Oversight Board, released an action plan on Tuesday for Facebook to follow through on its own policies. It calls for the company to designate an executive-level manager to oversee the policies for Facebook’s Spanish language content moderation.

It also asks the platform to publicly explain its translation process for both algorithmic and human content moderation, pointing out that there are critical discrepancies between original Spanish posts and the automatic translation that have further muddled questionable content. Campaign organizers are also asking the company to share training materials used to review whether content violates existing policies.

Cárdenas, who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, says he plans to question Mark Zuckerberg on the company’s neglect of Spanish language misinformation when the Facebook CEO comes before the committee next week. “The bottom line is that they’ve proven that they have the capabilities, they have the technology, and they have the resources to do this,” he says. “But they choose not to apply it to the degree that they have the ability to do so when it comes to Spanish.”

That disparity became clear during the 2020 election cycle. More than half of Spanish-speaking voters in Florida saw or shared political disinformation on Facebook ahead of the election, according to an October report by Avaaz, a nonprofit that tracks misinformation. In the days before the critical Georgia runoffs, which would decide which party would control the U.S. Senate, identical posts with voting disinformation in English and Spanish did not receive the same fact-check labels. As Trump and his allies falsely claimed that massive voter fraud had cost him the 2020 election, five out of 10 of the highest-performing English language posts repeating the lies were quickly labeled by Facebook. Just one out of 10 posts repeating the false claims in Spanish received a label, according to an Avaaz analysis.

In the first months of the pandemic, while roughly 70% of English posts spreading COVID-19 misinformation on Facebook were tagged with a warning label only 30% of comparable content in Spanish was flagged, according to an analysis by Avaaz. Experts and community health workers who serve largely Hispanic communities told TIME in January that this only became more dangerous with vaccine disinformation, which they say is contributing to low vaccination rates in an already vulnerable population that has been disproportionately affected by the virus. According to a recent survet by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 26% of Latinos said they would get the vaccine as soon as possible, compared to 40% of white Americans.

All of this is particularly dangerous given that the flood of disinformation is likely to exacerbate existing vaccine hesitancy and long-running voter suppression in Latino communities. On Tuesday, “Ya Basta” campaign organizers also highlighted the impact of political Facebook posts and ads warning about an “invasion” from the southern border, ideas echoed in the manifesto posted by the shooter who killed 23 people in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 in the deadliest attack on Latinos in U.S. history.

In a statement, Facebook spokesman Kevin McAlister said that the company had met with the groups in the coalition and shared their goal of curbing Spanish misinformation on the platform. “We are taking aggressive steps to fight misinformation in Spanish and dozens of other languages, including by removing millions of pieces of COVID-19 and vaccine content,” he said. Four of the company’s 10 fact-checking partners in the U.S. rate content in Spanish, and Facebook has been removing Spanish content that could put people in “imminent physical danger” and reduced the reach of posts containing misinformation, he said.

For the groups involved in Tuesday’s efforts, who say they are constantly having to use their own limited resources to find and flag viral Spanish disinformation to the company in order to get it to enforce its policies, that is far from enough.

“Facebook continues to ignore our concerns, and is making one thing perfectly clear: the safety and dignity of the Latinx community is not their priority,” said National Hispanic Media Coalition president Brenda Victoria Castillo. “When we say ‘Ya Basta, Facebook,’ we’re telling Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook leadership to answer for the lives lost and the hate and harassment endured as a result of their shameful record managing Spanish-language content.”

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Write to Vera Bergengruen at vera.bergengruen@time.com