IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Disinformation on Facebook is bad, but for U.S. Spanish speakers, it's even worse

U.S. Latinos use Facebook more. That makes Facebook's indifference to Spanish language disinformation more upsetting.
Photo illustration: Logos of Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram on a cloud that's glitching.
The LA Times reported on an internal Facebook memo that reads, in part, “We’re not good at detecting misinfo in Spanish or lots of other media type."MSNBC / Getty Images

For a majority of Latino families living in the United States, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram are essential. A 2014 study commissioned by the social media global power that has now renamed itself Meta said, “Facebook is the number 1 go-to platform for US Hispanics’ communication.” That trend hasn’t really changed. The Pew Research Center noted in April that 71 percent of U.S. Latinos use Facebook.

Facebook has paid little or no attention to stopping disinformation in Spanish.

For Latinos in the U.S., the second and third most used platforms were also Facebook properties: Instagram at 52 percent and WhatsApp at 46 percent. In addition, WhatsApp has earned the reputation of being the app for immigrants.

Those figures mean Latinos in the U.S. are oversubscribed on Facebook’s platforms, so it was only more troubling to learn from The Los Angeles Times last week that Facebook knew it was letting misinformation spread to Latinos online and did nothing to end it. Specifically, Facebook has paid little or no attention to stopping disinformation in Spanish.

Referring to the spread of disinformation, the L.A. Times took note of an internal Facebook document that reads: “We’re not good at detecting misinfo in Spanish or lots of other media type." Later, that same document reads, "We will still have gaps in detection & enforcement, esp. for Spanish.”

In essence, Facebook is telling U.S. Latinos that they’re second-class citizens in its space. Sorry for misleading you, but figure it out on your own.

Facebook’s internal acknowledgment that there are gaps in its detection of Spanish-language disinformation doesn’t need much verification, at least not from Latino and Latina Facebook users. How many times during the previous election cycle did I have to tell my older tías or friends that the meme they had just shared of Joe Biden as César Chávez was fake? But because to them, Facebook — and to a larger degree WhatsApp — are viewed as trusted information sources, any attempts to point out that they’re being targeted with fake news in Spanish were futile.

Once it’s out there, it’s out there so it must be true, right?

Because Latinos use social media platforms at higher rates than the overall U.S. population, the problem with disinformation is even more significant.

There was a time when Facebook was a dynamic place. I joined the social media site 16 years ago and soon discovered a Latino community that was actively engaged. I still use Facebook to feature my company’s journalism because I know a big part of our audience is there.

Social media companies have failed Latinos — and those companies don’t even care.

Still, this dynamic and engaged community is now actively being fooled and misled.

The L.A. Times story is just the latest in a list of reports to state the obvious: When it comes to the country’s largest ethnic group, social media companies have failed Latinos — and those companies don’t even care.

According to Pew, 39.1 million U.S. Latinos speak Spanish in the home. That is a significant population and you would think Facebook would be working extremely hard to serve this population, but you wouldn’t know that from leaked Facebook memos that acknowledge how it still has so much more work to do.

Facebook can’t just shrug its shoulders and move us into a metaverse without fixing the mess it has created for online Latinos. Part of the problem is Facebook’s pitiful diversity record. In 2020, Latinos represented just 6.3 percent of its workforce and only 4.3 percent of senior leadership. It is not known what percentage of those Latinos are U.S. Latinos and not from Latin America.

This representation issue is directly tied to Facebook’s inability to grasp where to begin on stopping disinformation to Latinos. While its customer base is oversubscribed on the network, the number of people who might have the cultural and linguistic understanding to better serve that customer base is extremely small.

If Facebook were to really think forward and be proactive about this, the solution to stop disinformation is right in front of them. Or at least 3,605 miles away — in Puerto Rico.

There’s no reason for Facebook to ask, “Where can we find the people to help us end the glut of Spanish language disinformation?” A company that truly cared to serve its U.S. Latino customer base would look to the island where a bilingual, bicultural workforce steeped in social media culture resides. Imagine the possibilities: The global giant could announce the massive hiring of moderators who become the country’s Latino disinformation warriors.

But it’s clear that Facebook hasn’t taken this issue seriously. While it has announced initiatives to stop disinformation generally, it has made the decision to overlook the U.S. Latino community. And U.S. Latinos are demanding that Facebook bring all the disinformation to an end.

Nobody in the U.S. uses Facebook’s platforms more than Latinos. We are not invisible, we are not second-class, and we are no longer listening to excuses.