It was interesting to read in the full collection [ https://www.bmj.com/social-media-influencing-vaccination ] a few articles acknowledging language inequity in vaccine information. Of course, language is a vital consideration for information provision, especially for groups already facing other forms of discrimination or marginalisation in health information and services. We've also heard anecdotal instances of people with capabilities in more than one language cross-referencing information between the colonial/elite/government language and their local/first language to ensure they are not being lied to or that information is not being distorted for political reasons. And in cases where language provision fails, the only information someone might be able to access in the language they speak is rumours and conspiracy theories - the repercussions are evident.
Yet language goes beyond information, and we're not yet seeing sufficient investment in managing language-related risk in the digital space. Reliable content moderation is essential to combat mis and disinformation. Yet on all major platforms, resourcing for content moderation is heavily disproportionately focused on English-language content. Where provision in other languages exists, it is still disproportionately in favour of globally powerful languages in comparison to the amount of actual content produced and shared per language.
Tools that facilitate content moderation, e.g. automatic keyword flagging, rely on good-quality language technology. Yet, again, this is only available in a fraction of the world's languages. Recent developments in large language modelling are supporting a shift towards language equity. But in many non-Western languages, their quality is still not high enough to be reliable in the fight against misinformation, even for languages with a significant number of native speakers such as Hausa.
Anyone working on the intersection of vaccine information and digital language risks is welcome to reach out.
HIFA profile: Emily Elderfield is an Advocacy Officer at CLEAR Global, and is based in Sweden. emily.elderfield AT clearglobal.org