Technology

Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation

A coalition of congressional Democrats is pressuring the CEOs of four social media companies to combat the spread of Spanish and other non-English language disinformation on their platforms. 

Democratic Sens. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Rep. Tony Cárdenas (Calif.) led 23 colleagues in sending letters to the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Nextdoor requesting detailed information on content moderation policies for the top five languages users on the platforms encounter. 

"Congress has a moral duty to ensure that all social media users have the same access to truthful and trustworthy content regardless of the language they speak at home or use to communicate online," the lawmakers wrote. 

The letter comes about a week after Klobuchar and Luján introduced a bill that would create an exception to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides tech companies a liability shield over content posted by third parties, for health misinformation related to an existing public health emergency.

The letter calls out issues involving the spread of misinformation about "vaccine hoaxes" as well as election misinformation. 

This is the second letter the Democrats sent Facebook and Twitter regarding efforts to combat misinformation. But the lawmakers wrote in the new letter that the companies' previous responses "failed to demonstrate the commensurate investment and the efficacy of those programs charged with limiting the spread of misinformation" and that there is "significant evidence that your Spanish-language moderation efforts are not keeping pace." 

Lawmakers have been ramping up pressure on the tech CEOs over content moderation policies. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey have testified before Congress numerous times. 

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has largely avoided the grilling from congressional panels. Sundar Pichai, the CEO of YouTube's parent company Google, however, has often appeared alongside the social media executives. 

This appears to be one of the few times Nextdoor has been targeted by lawmakers in their push to hold social media platforms accountable for the spread of misinformation. 

The platform boasts on its website that its users "turn to Nextdoor daily to receive trusted information, give and get help, and build real-world connections with those nearby - neighbors, businesses, and public services." 

"We have a strict policy against misinformation and take active measures to reduce the spread of misinformation. All reports of misinformation are sent directly to and handled by our trained Neighborhood Operations team," a Nextdoor spokesperson said in a statement.

Asked for further comment on Spanish and other non-English language misinformation, a Nextdoor spokesperson told The Hill the platform's "process and policies apply regardless of language" and that the company has "non-english content moderators."

A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement that it is operating its "entire comprehensive strategy to combat COVID-19 misinformation in Spanish." 

"This includes running the largest online vaccine information campaign in history and enforcing our policies and removing false claims about COVID-19 and vaccines - all in Spanish. We use the same machine learning model approaches in Spanish as we do in English to remove misinformation that violates our Community Standards, and we have four US-based fact-checking partners who review and rate content in Spanish," the spokesperson said. 

YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi said the company is still reviewing the letter but "in general" the platform's policies "are global, and apply to all content across all languages and regions, including Spanish."

"More than 20,000 people around the globe work to detect, review and remove content that violates our policies, many with native language expertise," Choi said in an email. 

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed the company received the letter and intends to respond. 

Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have previously defended their policies around combating COVID-19 misinformation more broadly, especially in light of a recent advisory released by the U.S. surgeon general calling the spread of health misinformation an "urgent threat."

Updated: 3:35 p.m.

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