Over the past several years, Congress has held countless hearings with Facebook’s leaders, interrogating the company’s executives on everything from market power and privacy to political bias and effects on children. Today alone, House and Senate members held two separate hearings on holding big tech accountable. But Congress has never held a hearing specifically dedicated to addressing Facebook’s (or “Meta” as it has now rebranded itself) deliberate failure to address Spanish-language misinformation.
By Janet Murguía, UnidosUS President and CEO
Worse yet, up until today when the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband will finally hear from Free Press Co-CEO Jessica Gonzalez on dangerous algorithms, Congress has not typically bothered to invite Latino voices to testify on Facebook’s nefarious practices. This is despite the fact that Latino communities have been disproportionately affected by the harm Facebook’s misinformation has inflicted on our nation and democracy.
It’s time for our lawmakers to show they are prioritizing Latino concerns by calling Mark Zuckerberg himself back to Washington to answer questions around what Facebook and its sister platforms are doing to combat misinformation targeting Latinos. At a bare minimum, members of Congress should be regularly including Latino perspectives among the witnesses they invite to provide testimony on holding tech companies like Facebook accountable.
This past October, we at UnidosUS decided to cut corporate ties with Facebook following whistleblower revelations on the role that the platform has played in intentionally perpetuating products and policies that harm the Latino community and undermine democratic ideals. We were dismayed and angered to learn that, at every turn, Facebook’s leaders have chosen growth over truth and safety — despite the assurances to the contrary they provided civil rights leaders like myself in numerous meetings over the past several years.
Since then, the news coming out of Facebook continues to get worse. In the weeks since media outlets published whistleblower documents about Facebook’s ability to detect and combat misinformation, multiple stories have been published detailing the full extent of Facebook’s willful disregard for the lies and conspiracy theories infesting its platforms in Spanish.
One thing has become painfully clear: while misinformation on social media continues to be an enormous problem when it comes to English language content, Facebook’s Spanish-language content resembles the “Wild, Wild West” — with virtually no monitoring or oversight by the company. These recent headlines both echo the concerns UnidosUS and our sister organizations in the Latino community have raised with Facebook for years and serve as confirmation of my organization’s decision to part ways with the company. Now in aggregate, they also underscore the urgent need for transparency and accountability that only the federal government can formally compel on a broad scale.
Rampant, unchecked misinformation and disinformation in Spanish has proved deadly for Latino communities. For example, we have seen first hand how misinformation is actively preventing way too many Latinos from getting the life-saving COVID-19 vaccine, making UnidosUS’s vaccine outreach and education campaign exponentially harder. That’s because Latinos are avid consumers of social media, at rates at or higher than for any other group in this country. Latinos are also three times more likely to die from COVID. Given the devastation of the pandemic on our community, Facebook’s disregard for the vaccine misinformation flourishing on its platform is unconscionable.
Worse yet, with Latinos representing nearly 19% of the U.S. population and amounting to almost one in ten voters in the 2020 elections, Facebook’s Spanish-language misinformation fiasco isn’t just a Latino problem — it creates deadly risks to public health in the midst of a pandemic and poses an existential threat to our democracy.
The bottom line is that we at UnidosUS no longer believe that Facebook has the interest or will in policing its Spanish-language content. It is now up to Congress to reel the company in.
While we greatly appreciate the thoughtful concerns and questions many of our lawmakers have directed at Facebook in related hearings, letters, and public statements, they haven’t had much more success than we did in eliciting answers. It’s time for Congress to not only formally include members of our community in any future hearings around tech accountability, but also to act on our concerns by holding a session dedicated to demanding Mark Zuckerberg himself provide answers on Spanish-language misinformation.
After all, if Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is right that the company only cares about policing content in the languages and markets it might be regulated in, then more lawmakers need to show they are also taking non-English content seriously in holding Facebook to account.