- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2020

Democrats confronted Facebook on Friday over the company’s handling of non-English misinformation posted on its platforms about COVID-19, the disease the novel coronavirus causes.

Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts raised concerns with Facebook’s chief executive officer over the findings of a recent study that examined the company’s response to coronavirus-related misinformation.

Released by Avaaz, a non-profit global activism group, the study cited by the senators said that Facebook had failed to issue warning labels on 68% of Italian-language coronavirus-related misinformation and 70% of Spanish-language coronavirus-related misinformation found on its flagship social network, compared to 29% of English-language content.

“This is a significant gap exposing non-English speakers to the perils of misinformation and disinformation,” the senators wrote in a letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “Given the fact that both Italy and Spain are the second and third countries with the most COVID-19 cases behind the United States, it is not hard to draw a line between the language in which people consume information and the risk behaviors they expose themselves to with such limited information.”

More than 60 million people within the U.S. speak a language other than English, and 40% of those people have limited English proficiency, the senators noted.

Additionally, nearly half of Latinos living in the U.S. – 49% – report using WhatsApp, a messaging application owned by Facebook, the senators continued, “making them a substantial share of the Spanish speaking American community” on the company’s platforms.

“Making matters worse, many non-English speakers in America have been historically marginalized people of color, which initial data suggests are being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 virus,” the lawmakers added.

“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.”

The letter concludes by asking Mr. Zuckerberg to provide details about Facebook’s efforts to curb misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 posted in non-English language across its platforms, including detailed descriptions of any related policies and procedures the company has put in place to.

A spokesperson for Facebook confirmed the company received the letter but did not comment further.

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