NEW YORK — On Sunday, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver highlighted the spread of non-English misinformation on social-media and instant-messaging platforms. The episode drew attention to how these companies have provided little-to-no transparency regarding their policies and practices for moderating content posted in languages other than English.
“We clearly haven’t remotely figured out what to do with English-language misinformation yet,” Oliver said during the program. “It’s hard to imagine that this situation could be worse, but when it comes to non-English misinformation it honestly is.”
Oliver focused much of the segment on the spread of non-English misinformation among members of diaspora communities where “the spread of misinformation … is exacerbated by the fact that there aren’t many alternative [sources of news] in their own languages.”
Oliver shared examples showing the spread of non-English misinformation among diaspora communities that was in clear violation of platform rules. In one example, Facebook applied a false-information label to a post titled “the fake vaccination of Kamala Harris,” but did not apply any such warning to the exact same video in Spanish. Internal Facebook documents that whistleblower Frances Haugen brought to light revealed that Facebook scientists found the company is virtually incapable of detecting “vaccine hesitancy” in non-English comments.
Twenty-six members of Congress recently wrote to dominant social-media platforms and requested that they provide more detail on their efforts to identify and curtail the spread of non-English disinformation. Facebook and YouTube were evasive in their responses, in many instances choosing not to answer the lawmakers’ questions at all.
Free Press, a leader of the “Ya Basta Facebook” and Change the Terms coalitions, has long demanded that all social-media platforms invest in human moderators who are trained, supported, language-fluent and culturally competent.
Free Press Co-CEO Jessica J. González, who co-founded Change the Terms and is a leader of the Ya Basta Facebook coalition, made the following statement:
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver has laid bare the many harms caused by social-media companies that fail to curb the targeting, manipulation and disenfranchisement of Latinx and other non-English-speaking communities in the United States. There is simply no excuse for Facebook and other social media companies’ chronic underinvestment in non-English content moderation.
“Free Press and our allies have met with Facebook executives on several occasions to pressure them to reduce the growing presence of false and violent content on their platforms in all languages. But the company has continued to profit off of hate and lies instead of keeping our communities safe and informed. Facebook and other tech companies must adopt new policies and invest in new practices that rid their sites of harmful mis- and disinformation. These platforms must immediately invest the resources necessary to make their platforms safe in all languages.”
At last week's Senate hearing, whistleblower Haugen testified: “It seems that Facebook invests more in the users that make more money, even though the danger may not be evenly distributed based on profitability.”
In March, the Ya Basta Facebook coalition launched and offered the company a detailed “Spanish Language Disinformation Action Plan.”