According to a news release issued Thursday, New York Attorney General Letitia James wrote to the social media giant on behalf of nearly two dozen organizations like the Salvadoran American Chamber of Commerce and New York Communities for Change, urging Facebook to combat disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccinations. The letter claimed that the “direct targeting of Latino and other Spanish-speaking communities has led to vaccination rates that remain extremely low.”
The attorney general asked Facebook to act in light of the virus’ continued spread and the fact that as autumn nears, New Yorkers will turn to more indoor activities. The letter also expressed urgency given the emergence of new virus variants and rising infection rates.
The coalition explained that misinformation, particularly Spanish-language content, has caused “vaccine hesitancy,” among Facebook users. Consequently, “the constant barrage of inaccurate information being shared on Facebook has led to vaccination rates in the Latino community barely surpassing 15 percent,” the letter said. This figure, the attorney general noted, is 45% less than some other ethnic groups.
The letter pointed to a study finding that Facebook is more likely to place an accuracy or false information warning on English information over the same information than Spanish. This, the letter said, contributed to the fact that almost 40% of Latinos surveyed said they had been exposed to material that caused them to believe that vaccines are neither safe nor effective.
In particular, the letter requested that Facebook “share its policies and procedures regarding misinformation targeted towards the Latino community, including what tools Facebook uses to monitor Spanish-language and Latino-targeted misinformation regarding the COVID-19 virus and vaccines across its platforms, including on WhatsApp and Instagram.” It also asked for information regarding what efforts Facebook is making to provide scientifically accurate, evidence-based information to Latino users.
The letter follows the introduction of a bill last week proposing to hold digital media platforms accountable for the spread of health-related misinformation during public health crises. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced the legislation and said that the platforms, some of the world’s largest and wealthiest companies, must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation.