A study found that 66% of respondents whose primary language is Spanish received mis/disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine through messaging apps like Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp.
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), and 20 other colleagues in sending bicameral letters to the heads of WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal to express serious concerns about the rise of Spanish-language mis/disinformation targeted at Latino communities on these group messaging applications. In their letter, the lawmakers urge these companies to outline what steps, if any, they are taking to prevent or address the spread of Spanish-language mis/disinformation.
“The spread of Spanish language disinformation is a threat to our communities, and tech companies must do more to combat it without compromising our privacy,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “I’ll continue working to hold tech companies accountable and ensure that we are protecting the Latino community against misinformation and working to strengthen trust in public health and our democratic institutions.”
The lawmakers made clear that group messaging applications like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal can address the spread of Spanish-language mis/disinformation without compromising user privacy or the integrity of private encrypted communication “by increasing access to reliable fact-checking across languages, hiring and adequately investing in staff who have the necessary cultural context, and implementing other tools to slow the spread of viral mis/disinformation.” They also emphasized that “the spread of content that promotes mis/disinformation, undermines public health efforts, and instills distrust in our democratic institutions must become a top priority…”
The lawmakers expressed concerns about how group messaging platforms like Telegram are attractive for bad actors seeking to rapidly spread mis/disinformation to mass audiences because they allow as many as 200,000 individuals in a group with limited oversight. They also pointed out how it is estimated that by 2023, almost 71 percent of the U.S. Latino population will be WhatsApp users and how young Latinos, in particular, are twice as likely to use platforms like WhatsApp compared to the general population. This leaves young Latinos exposed to an even higher rate of mis/disinformation compared to the general population.
The first and only Latina in the U.S. Senate, Senator Cortez Masto is committed to combating misinformation. Last year, she pushed tech CEOs to act on the rampant spread of Spanish and other non-English language disinformation across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Nextdoor. She also urged the Biden Administration to combat health disinformation and ensure that accurate vaccine information reaches Latino communities nationwide. In addition, the senator called on online platforms like Facebook and Twitter to take further measures to stop the spread of voter-related disinformation and led bipartisan legislation to fund research in detecting “deepfakes,” online videos that realistically mimic a person’s identity.