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Democratic senators urge Facebook to curb coronavirus misinformation in other languages

Democratic senators urge Facebook to curb coronavirus misinformation in other languages
© Aaron Schwartz

A group of Democratic senators on Friday sent a letter to Facebook urging the company to take steps to curb coronavirus misinformation that is not in English.

The letters from Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezTensions mount among Democrats over US-Israel policy Senate Democrats ramp up push to limit Biden's war powers Democrats reintroduce legislation to ban 'ghost guns' MORE (D-N.J.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoMore than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill Biden-McConnell cold war unlikely to end at White House If you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume MORE (D-Hawaii) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren calls for US to support ceasefire between Israel and Hamas Sanders: Netanyahu has cultivated 'racist nationalism' Tensions mount among Democrats over US-Israel policy MORE (D-Mass.) notes that more than 60 million Americans speak another language and cites a study that Facebook fails to issue warning labels on content in those languages at a much higher rate. 

“Unfortunately, it continues to be far too easy for anyone to share false, misleading and potentially dangerous misinformation and disinformation about the virus [on Facebook-owned platforms],” the lawmakers wrote to Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergBipartisan attorneys general urge Facebook to scrap planned Instagram for kids Hillicon Valley: Broadband companies funded fake net neutrality comments, investigation finds | Twitter rolls out tip feature | Google to adopt 'hybrid work week' Oversight Board achieving what government cannot MORE.

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“As the world grapples with COVID-19 by remaining at home, millions of Americans and billions of people around the world are turning to social media platforms like Facebook as a way to connect with their loved ones," they added.

The study cited by the lawmakers from nonprofit activism group Avaaz found that the social media giant failed to issue warning labels on 70 percent of Spanish-language content and 68 percent of Italian, compared to 29 percent of English.

"This is a significant gap exposing non-English speakers to the perils of misinformation and disinformation,” the lawmakers wrote.

"Making sure that people, especially our most vulnerable communities, in the United States and around the world receive the most accurate information about how to prevent and protect themselves from COVID-19 is not only a moral imperative, it’s the only way we can beat this virus together," they added.

Conspiracy theories and unfounded claims about the coronavirus, its origins and ways to combat it have surged on social media in step with the disease itself, causing what WHO has branded an “infodemic.”

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Facebook has taken several steps to combat the spread of that disinformation, elevating information from trusted sources and limiting the spread of potentially harmful posts.

The social media giant also began notifying users who have interacted with misinformation about the coronavirus and connecting them with debunkings of common misinformation.

It has also donated $1 million to fact-checkers around the world and added eight new fact-checking partners in the last two months. 

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone confirmed the company received the letter.