Fact-checkers say social media companies’ inaction on multilingual fake news fuels racism, threatens democracy

  • An uptick in misinformation targeting immigrant communities leading up to this year’s midterm elections has multilingual fact-checkers working overtime to debunk false narratives.
  • “There’s definitely a hyper-targeting of messaging,” said Viet Fact Check co-founder Nick Nguyen. “This is where a lack of English-language fluency can make populations vulnerable.”
  • Desifacts, a project of the advocacy group Indian American Impact, began publishing explainers on relevant topics focusing on South Asian American communities in Hindi, Bengali and Tamil this year.
  • Nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice has also been tracking messaging trends on social media to investigate and counter disinformation campaigns before the November elections.
  • “Tech companies, social media platforms, and politicians alike need to take more concrete actions to protect Asian American communities from mis/disinformation in their native languages; content in different languages cannot continue to be treated as a 'foreign' problem," the organization pointed out.

Multilingual fact-checkers are fighting back against misinformation spreading via social media platforms in the lead-up to this year’s midterm elections.

But as false narratives continue to thrive online despite their efforts, these groups are now calling on top social media platforms to do more in combating misinformation in languages other than English.

Viet Fact Check, one of the few multilingual groups that debunk false information, has observed an uptick in falsehoods targeting Vietnamese American communities online. 

“There’s definitely a hyper-targeting of messaging,” said Viet Fact Check co-founder Nick Nguyen. “This is where a lack of English-language fluency can make populations vulnerable.”

Despite social media platforms claiming they are addressing misinformation in different languages, the deluge of false narratives continues to thrive and pose a big challenge for fact-checkers.

The current spike is reminiscent of the flood of misleading posts that spread in immigrant communities online ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

At the time, fake news targeting older Indian immigrants was widespread on WhatsApp, including claims that ballots would not count if voters selected Democrats for every post or if election officials signed dropped-off ballots.

“There’s just a lot of inaccurate information for an already confusing process and this year is different for everybody because we’re relying on virtual connections more than ever,” North Carolina Asian Americans Together Executive Director Chavi Khanna Koneru told Reuters in 2020.

Desifacts, a project of the advocacy group Indian American Impact, began publishing explainers on relevant topics focusing on South Asian American communities in Hindi, Bengali and Tamil this year.

“The pervasive spread of mis- and disinformation exacerbates partisan disagreement, erodes trust in our democracy, stifles or prevents voter participation, and has tremendous consequences on health outcomes such as personal decisions around getting vaccinated,” read a statement on the Desifacts website. “In South Asian communities, misinformation has fueled Islamophobia and racism against other communities of color.”

Nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) has also been tracking messaging trends on social media to investigate and counter disinformation campaigns before the November elections.

The organization lamented that efforts to misinform Asian American communities have so far been effective. 

“A growing subset of the Asian American community — largely first-generation immigrants for whom English is not their native tongue — subscribe to ‘the big lie,’ question the integrity of electoral processes in the United States, and believe their children are being ‘indoctrinated’ by ‘critical race theory’ in public schools,” AAJC explained. 

According to the nonprofit, false information in Chinese about mail-in ballots, school curriculums and hate crimes proliferates on Twitter, YouTube and WeChat and poses “dangerous implications” for Asian American voters this year. 

“Tech companies, social media platforms, and politicians alike need to take more concrete actions to protect Asian American communities from mis/disinformation in their native languages; content in different languages cannot continue to be treated as a ‘foreign’ problem,” AAJC pointed out. 

The nonprofit offered several steps to address the disinformation problem, such as “hiring more content moderators with appropriate language and cultural competency, banning the use of discriminatory algorithms, and creating greater platform transparency could make a large difference in shielding communities from harmful mis/disinfo narratives that pose tangible threats to our democracy.”

 

Featured Image via memyselfaneye

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