Opinion: Spanish-language climate misinformation spreads like wildfire in the US

Opinion: Spanish-language climate misinformation spreads like wildfire in the US

Misinformation about the climate crisis has never been hard to find in English, but it is even more widespread and less moderated in Spanish-language media. Compared to Twitter, Trump, and other notoriously prolific disseminators of English-language disinformation, Spanish-language sources are less predictable, more global, and virtually unchecked.

a recent report commissioned by GreenLatinos and Friends of the Earth found that the majority of Spanish-language climate misinformation in the US last year originated in Spain. Propaganda often coincided with extreme events such as the 2022 forest fires.

In recent weeks, the cycle has repeated itself as new fires devastated Spain’s lush Asturias region, and misinformers have tried to obscure the connection to climate change. Some armed the fires to spread political attacks against renewable energy and sustainable development, copying It is pasting the same fake content on multiple accounts.

Spanish speakers are disproportionately exposed to fake content on social media due to their greater reliance on platforms and weaker fact-checking and moderation of Spanish-language content. Latin Americans are more probable receive and share misinformation than the general population.

Research has shown that false or misleading Spanish content on some platforms is retained longer if not indefinitely. Facebook spends 87% of its anti-disinformation budget on US-generated content, which allows more non-English and foreign-sourced content to go unnoticed and flagged. These disparities have become increasingly apparent in Latino susceptibility to misinformation about public health, elections and climate change.

Our report explains how online climate disinformation is reaching Spanish-speaking communities across the United States, identifying key actors and the strategies they use to spread false content. It turned out that those spreading climate disinformation in Spanish here mostly operate outside the country, both in Spain and Latin America.

The most prominent offenders are based in Spain, espousing conservative and libertarian views associated with a far-right national party there. In Latin America, Spanish-speaking disinformers feed mostly from right-wing US accounts, augmenting existing English content simply by translating it into Spanish.

Unsurprisingly, this content is often accompanied by misinformation about COVID-19 and conspiracy theories such as the “New world order”, the false notion that a shadowy group of elites is working to establish a global totalitarian regime.

In response to protests by Dutch farmers last year over efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for example, Spanish-speaking propagandists shared happy suggesting that elites were intentionally causing food shortages for profit. Like English-speaking climate deniers, most of their Spanish-speaking counterparts promote a broader right-wing agenda that goes beyond climate misinformation.

Content timing is tactical, coinciding with events like extreme weather and new climate policy. In July, for example, a report that Spanish reforestation projects precipitated a burned was set up to undermine evidence linking climate change to wildfires – a tactic that is now being revisited.

The damage is further amplified by the disproportionate likelihood of Spanish-speaking communities to bear the impact of the climate crisis. ninety two percent of California farm workers are Spanish speakers, for example, and rising temperatures put them at particular risk of heat-related illness and death.

Access to accurate information is critical to ensuring communities have a clear understanding of climate-induced threats. This is why social media platforms must be held accountable for ensuring that already vulnerable people do not face further disparities.

Businesses and policymakers can take a number of steps to stop the spread of climate misinformation in Spanish. At a minimum, social media companies should enforce their moderation of weather and other misinformation, enforce their own standards, and demonetize ads that promote false content in all languages. And they must invest in native speakers wherever they operate to help monitor content, identify repeat offenders and close language gaps in moderation and enforcement.

Policymakers, in turn, must approve legislation demand transparency and accountability from Big Tech. Social media executives should be asked to detail their plans and procedures for reducing the spread of Spanish language weather and other misinformation and improving accountability and transparency. They can start by publishing the ratio of moderators to users in each language to help regulators and the public understand how platforms are protecting each community.

Tech companies are treating Spanish speakers as second-class citizens, failing to consider the danger to non-English speaking communities in need of critical, verifiable, and potentially life-saving information. As the climate crisis intensifies, we need to ensure that everyone has equitable access to a safe and informative digital public square.

Edder Diaz-Martinez is Communication Manager at GreenLatinos.

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