Law in the Internet Society

I Saw it in Spanish on Facebook

I listened as my parents’ friends—a group of Latinx individuals ranging between the ages of fifty to eighty—spoke about different subjects in our living room. I sensed a paranoid looming over each conversation—one of being fed incorrect information, of being indoctrinated by the most powerful or loudest group. When I interjected to ask about a ludicrous assertion, the answer I got was “I saw it on Facebook.” Predictably, this individual had no further information or source; he simply made a dangerous conclusory statement with no additional support or memorable trace. Ironic for all the paranoia.

To individuals who rely on social media for news, this looming paranoia, however, seems warranted. Unsurprisingly, in a study assessing the spread of “factually dubious news dissemin[ation,],” research found the obvious—"[H]eavy Facebook users were differentially likely to consume information from these [untrustworthy] websites, which was often immediately preceded by a visit to Facebook. Moreover… fact-checking websites failed to effectively reach visitors to untrustworthy websites” (Guess et. al., 277). As imagined, groups specifically target more vulnerable populations, since their access to information is limited usually by a disconnect in usage capabilities or accessibility. These groups are also more likely to unintentionally give away personal information by liking or commenting on posts and generally engaging directly on these platforms. With approximately 72% of American-Hispanic individuals use Facebook, 52% use Instagram, and 46% use WhatsApp—all platforms owned by Facebook, or Meta—social media has exacerbated misinformation dissemination for this growing influential population.

--+ Disproportionality: Misinformation in Spanish It is anticipated that by 2050, one in three people in the United States will speak Spanish, including bilingual (English-Spanish) individuals (Thompson). Understandably so, it is imperative, at its earlier stages, to implement mechanisms to combat Spanish-language misinformation for such an already prominent language. Yet, a leaked Facebook product risk assessment document to the Securities and Exchange Commission had comments written on it such as, “We’re not good at detecting misinfo in Spanish or lots of other media types” and “We still have gaps in detection & enforcement, esp. for Spanish” (Contreras). This is, however, an alarming cross-continental issue affecting avid users who primarily engage in Spanish. It is estimated that over half of Latin America’s population uses Facebook, and it is projected that by 2024, around 55.2% of its population will access their Facebook accounts at least once a month (Carnahan). While social media usage goes up, so does unchallenged misinformation.

Since the United States does not have laws against false information due to First Amendment protections, aside from criminal violations, companies such as Facebook have decided to take some action against misinformation, such as fact-checking and labeling misinformation on ads; however, the likely positive effects of these measures are doubtful. And while fear-mongering and false information run rampant all-over social media, observation has shown that often with political information, “the same sort of themes that were showing up in English were also showing up in Spanish…. But in English, they were either getting flagged or taken down altogether, and in Spanish, they were being left up; or if they were getting taken down, it was taking days… to take them down” (Contreras). Another study also found that warning labels for Covid-19 misinformation were missing from 70% of Spanish-language content versus 29% of English-language (Avaaz). Clearly these measures have not been uniform. In countries still struggling due to failed interventionism, the effects of past dictatorships, and some beliefs tied to homeopathic and religious traditions, widespread misinformation often does not seem farfetched and creates an even more vulnerable population. Moreover, in places where political censorship and more uneven access to software exists, Internet access is heavily associated with freedom, but clearly with an unknown costs and effects. So, what is being done?

In Brazil, the Internet Freedom, Responsibility and Transparency Bill—to combat false information dissemination with an “internet transparency council,” including government and civil members—was approved in the Senate in 2020 and is currently in their lower chamber. Argentina also recently launched the Observatory of Disinformation and Symbolic Violence on Digital Media and Platforms (NODIO) act to “detect, verify, identify and disarticulate malicious news” (Rauls). However, these “solutions” come with censorship issues, political implications, and the possible abuse of what is actually misinformation. Thus, if the responsibility falls on companies, we are back to an uneven system where certain populations possibly receive warnings to easily accessible information. As Federico Fellini one said, “A different language is a different vision of life,” quite literally.

There are some respects in which the rise of FB and other platforms as global publishers with—in most societies—grossly inadequate understanding of local languages and cultures has done unique harms. In almost the whole world the have been easy to exploit for incitement to violence and other forms of speech they want to exclude but are incompetent to prevent. With respect to "misinformation," however, the platforms can quite rightly point out that there were types like the ones you describe before there was Facebook, and they weren't previously getting their information from impeccable sources then, either. They spoke every language spoken in every street, because they were then the street. The platforms' profound alteration of the mechanisms of culture is that they took the language of the street, the bar, the kitchen table, and the soapbox and used all of it to collect information not only about speakers but about listeners, tracking them everywhere through the Web and building knowledge of their behavior into tranches that advertisers will rely upon and buy into, hundreds of thousands of times an hour, with respect to billions of people being, as the say in advertising, "impressed."

I don't understand the idea of "getting ahead of the problem" in one language instead of another. I asked in 1997—now essentially the Neolithic—what would have happened if we had called the Net the "Universal Education System" instead of the "Information Superhighway"? If we wanted to use the same technologies to provide ourselves with well-edited, transparently-produced information that helps us to learn about Anything at all, in every language, under rules that enable sharing and produce high quality, what would we do? I think we did it; it's called Wikipedia. But that's not where peop-le get their news. Still, nothing like it ever existed before and we might want to think about where the innovations truly might be.



Webs Webs

r2 - 30 Dec 2021 - 20:17:54 - EbenMoglen
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