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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) MenendezYear-end deal creates American Latino, women's history museums Lawmakers call for including creation of Latino, women's history museums in year-end spending deal Trump offered 0 million to terrorism victims to save Sudan-Israel deal  MORE (D-N.J.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senator raises concerns about inauguration security Senate Democrats urge Google to improve ad policies to combat election disinformation Senate gears up for battle over Barr's new special counsel MORE (D-Hawaii) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden to tap Rohit Chopra to lead CFPB, Gensler for SEC chair: reports Biden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Porter loses seat on House panel overseeing financial sector 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 ZuckerbergOcasio-Cortez: Facebook, Zuckerberg 'bear partial responsibility' for insurrection 'Nationalize' Facebook and Twitter as public goods Amazon cites death threats in push to keep Parler offline 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.