Luján, Menendez, Cárdenas, Colleagues Probe Efforts to Stop Spread of Spanish-Language Mis/Disinformation on WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal 

The lawmakers emphasized the spread of content that promotes mis/disinformation, undermines public health efforts, and instills distrust in our democratic institutions must become a top priority for the heads of group messaging applications

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), alongside U.S. Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.-29), led 20 colleagues in sending letters to the heads of WhatsAppTelegram, and Signal to express serious concerns about the rise of Spanish-language mis/disinformation targeted at Latino communities on these group messaging applications and posed specific questions about what steps, if any, these companies are taking to prevent or address the spread of Spanish-language mis/disinformation.

The lawmakers made clear that group messaging applications like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal can address the spread of Spanish-language mis/disinformation without compromising user privacy or the integrity of private encrypted communication “by increasing access to reliable fact-checking across languages, hiring and adequately investing in staff who have the necessary cultural context, and implementing other tools to slow the spread of viral mis/disinformation.” They also emphasized that, “the spread of content that promotes mis/disinformation, undermines public health efforts, and instills distrust in our democratic institutions must become a top priority…”

“With millions of users on their platforms, it’s crucial that messaging apps treat Spanish misinformation and disinformation with urgency. Unless they address this problem, dangerous lies and conspiracies will continue to go unchecked – fueling distrust in safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines, and undermining our elections,” said Sen. Luján, Chair of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband. “Latinos depend on these apps to communicate with their loved ones and communities, and it’s time for these companies to prioritize putting an end to Spanish misinformation and disinformation. I look forward to working with my colleagues and these companies to make this a reality.” 

“The unchecked spread of Spanish-language mis/disinformation will only further erode our democracy and lead to dangerous long-term consequences that can affect the security and well-being of America’s fastest growing demographic – the Latino community,” said Sen. Menendez. “As members of Congress, we have a serious responsibility to ensure that big tech companies and group messaging applications are taking the necessary steps to insulate our democracy and democratic institutions from bad actors hell-bent on destroying our great American experiment. This is a challenge we must confront head on and I am more committed than ever to working with these companies, as well as holding them accountable when needed, to ensure we can mitigate the spread of mis/disinformation.”

“Spanish language disinformation is running rampant on social media, including on encrypted messaging apps,” said Rep. Cárdenas. “Time and again, we’ve seen the continuous spread of flat out lies that undermine trust in our democracy and public health. It is painfully clear technology companies need to increase their resources to successfully monitor and stop the spread of disinformation on their platforms. I look forward to working with each of these companies to fight back against this disinformation, put an emphasis on content moderation and protect our community from dishonesty and division.”

Mis/disinformation disproportionately targets Spanish-speaking communities in the United States, including campaigns during the 2020 presidential election and the COVID-19 vaccination effort, and across Latin America, where group messaging platforms like Telegram were used to spread mis/disinformation to influence the 2018 Brazilian election.

A study conducted by Change Research on behalf of the Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab found that 66% of respondents whose primary language spoke at home is Spanish received wrong or harmful information about the COVID-19 vaccine through messaging apps like Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp.

The lawmakers expressed concerns about how group messaging platforms like Telegram is an attractive platform for bad actors seeking to rapidly spread mis/disinformation to mass audiences because it allows as many as 200,000 individuals in a group with limited oversight. They also pointed out how it is estimated that by 2023 almost 71 percent of the U.S. Latino population will be WhatsApp usersand how young Latinos, in particular, are twice as likely to use platforms like WhatsApp compared to the general population. This leaves young Latinos exposed to an even higher rate of mis/disinformation compared to the general population.

Joining Sens. Luján and Menendez in the Senate in signing these letters are Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Joining Rep. Cárdenas in the House of Representatives are Reps. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-Fla.-20), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.-51), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.-07),  Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.-13), Linda T. Sánchez (D-Calif.-38), Nanette Díaz Barragán (D-Calif.-44), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.-23), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.-03), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.-14), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.-40), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (D-Ill.-04), Darren Soto (D-Fla.-09), and Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.-14).

Full text of the letters can be found as follows: (WhatsAppTelegram | Signal)



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