Social Media Platforms Must Combat Spanish-Language Misinformation From Russia

It has been a month since Russia invaded Ukraine. And if you’re a Spanish-speaking Facebook user, you’re likely exposed to “news articles” on the platform that may give you the wrong idea. about what caused the war.

This is because social media posts in Spanish have spread rapidly with propaganda and conspiracy theories that blame the United States for the armed conflict and accuse the United States of failing to reveal to the world a key fact: that there are American chemical and biological weapons development facilities in Ukraine that threaten Russia.

Unsurprisingly, the outlet promoting the biolab conspiracy theory – already debunked – is RT en Español, the Russian-controlled television network. Its Spanish-language Facebook page posted a clip of the Russian defense minister just Thursday morning announcing that Russian experts have found new evidence that biological weapons are being secretly developed in US-funded Ukrainian labs. It bears repeating: this is false information. And yet, the Facebook post remains unchanged as such and continues to generate high levels of engagement through hundreds of likes, shares and comments.

A Facebook post from RT en Español on March 24 shows the Russian Defense Minister announcing new evidence of US-backed biolabs in Ukraine. Handout

Similar posts in Spanish have been flagged by misinformation and disinformation experts to urge Facebook and other tech companies to do more to detect and remove these blatant lies. This is not a new problem. Misinformation in Spanish has spread quickly on social platforms – and often unchecked or left longer than it survives in English – about COVID-19 vaccines and the 2020 presidential election.

As the Russian invasion unfolded in Ukraine, Facebook and TikTok banned Russian state media in Europe, while YouTube blocked them globally as it became clear that Russian-controlled media the Kremlin were spreading propaganda. But according to experts, misinformation in Spanish and conspiracy theories have a longer lifespan than their English counterparts on social media because, on the whole, the platforms do not devote enough resources and time to combat them. It’s far too late: Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter had better catch up and take the threat of Spanish-language misinformation seriously.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is there and requested meetings with Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter earlier this year to urge them to take more aggressive action to tackle misinformation in Spanish. Caucus members “also publicly called on online platforms to publish information about their effectiveness in detecting the prevalence of language-segregated violent content,” caucus members wrote in letters sent to the four tech companies in January. “Anything they do in English should be imitated in Spanish,” Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, a caucus member, told POLITICO.

The false narrative of biolabs has become particularly pernicious and resistant to purge. According to a Media Matters review, in partnership with the Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab, Russian news agency Sputnik Mundo is also pushing the conspiracy theory on Twitter and Facebook that the United States was “experimenting with coronavirus samples from bats.” mice in the biological medium. labs” that they falsely claim America has in Ukraine.

There is also evidence that Russian propaganda efforts in Spanish began before the war started and that Facebook should do more to combat them.

“Before the Russian invasion, RT en Español was spreading this idea that the United States was the reason for a possible escalation,” said Jacobo Licona, disinformation researcher at Equis Labs, a Latinx research and polling company. . These misleading posts, he said, “had a very high level of engagement.” As a remedy, Facebook said it would try to reduce engagement by not recommending these RT en Español posts to users. But Licona told me that engagement at RT en Español was even higher than before the invasion. “From January 23 to February 23, there were an average of 56,000 daily interactions on the page. But from February 24 until now, the average has nearly doubled to nearly 100,000 daily interactions,” Licona said.

The problem with misinformation is that it has no borders, Licona said. “Content from Latin America often reaches the Spanish-speaking community in the United States and vice versa.” Additionally, a video with misinformation in English that is posted on YouTube may not be flagged and removed until a Latin American influencer makes their own version in Spanish, which eventually makes it to Spanish-speaking audiences in the United States. United. It’s a vicious circle. “Disinformation in Spanish is a challenge of hemispheric proportions,” Licona said.

He is right. And whether it’s the US election, the coronavirus vaccine, the Russian-Ukrainian war, or even social movements like Black Lives Matter, misinformation in Spanish can no longer remain a blind spot for tech companies.


Marcela García can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @marcel_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.

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