With voting already underway for this year’s terms, election hoaxes and QAnon conspiracy theories are circulating among Spanish-speaking communities, raising alarm bells for advocates who may discourage Latinos from voting and further divide communities.
The impact of misinformation has been particularly severe in South Florida with its large Spanish-speaking community, foreign-born population and significant political influence. A longtime battleground state that is shifting Republican (former President Donald Trump carried it in 2020) the state is a gubernatorial and Senate race this year.
Ahead of the midterms, the main false narrative is about alleged fraud in the 2020 presidential election, according to Tamoa Calzadilla, managing editor of the Spanish-language fact-checking website Factchequeado.com. (There is no evidence of this fraud.)
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The misinformation is often similar in English and Spanish, Calzadilla said, but his team has identified specific issues that specifically target the Latino population, including falsehoods that the Biden administration is a socialist and communist regime that is sensitive to people from Cuba, Venezuela. and Nicaragua because of the history of those countries, he said.
The spread of misinformation and disinformation in Spanish, some of it coming directly from politicians and partisan media, has plagued social media platforms for years and helped sow doubts about the integrity of American elections.
“[I]It is something that is breaking down our democratic institutions. It affects our families. It’s dividing our families,” Evelyn Perez Verdia, director of strategy for intercultural communication and countering disinformation and a Democrat at We Are Más, told CNN.
Fake election-related content online has created “a lot of mistrust” among Spanish voters and voters from other diaspora communities, Verdia said.
Bowing in part to public scrutiny, platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have sought for years to find ways to slow the spread of misinformation about the election. In some cases, platforms remove false claims entirely; in other cases, they consider the claims to be false and direct users to specific information.
But in WhatsApp, the same kind of tagging and fact checking is not possible. WhatsApp, which was acquired by Facebook (now called Meta), is an encrypted messaging service, meaning that no one, not even Meta, is supposed to be able to see the messages that users send to each other.
Encryption is a key selling point of WhatsApp. In a world of increased surveillance, people want privacy. But that poses a challenge to slow the spread of misinformation — a challenge WhatsApp parent company Meta says it’s committed to.
Latino Democratic activists in South Florida recently described to CNN how their family’s WhatsApp groups have been flooded with election misinformation in recent years.
Verdia, who has worked with Florida’s Hispanic, Latino and diaspora communities for 20 years, said he has seen Republicans who used to “break bread,” become radicalized by the spread of false information and “sell” that information themselves.
There have been misrepresentations about electoral fraud, socialism, communism and candidates for office, Verdia said, noting that disinformation has spread on WhatsApp group channels.
Meanwhile, on Telegram, a platform with lax rules that has become a breeding ground for conspiracy theory and right-wing hate, QAnon channels dedicated to translating conspiracy theory into Spanish have tens of thousands of followers.
The disinformation published on these channels is very “sophisticated”, focusing on specific accents and subcultures, Verdia said, admitting that he does not know where the false information originated.
In September, QAnon supporters saw Trump’s renewed embrace of the conspiracy theory after Trump shared a meme on social media — a sign to QAnon followers that they were on to something and that Trump was sympathetic to them.
What QAnon followers believe varies, but it all includes conspiracy theories about a deep state, child-sacrificing cabals and lies about the 2020 presidential election.
“We can try to explain” that Trump lost his cases challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election, Calzadilla said, but people are “listening” to misinformation about the “big lie.”
Calzadilla, a former Univision reporter, fled Venezuela about seven years ago with her journalist husband after it became too dangerous to work in the country, she said.
In the past year or so, election officials have raised the need for the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to help non-English-speaking communities deal with the dangers of disinformation, according to Kim Wyman, CISA’s Senior Election Security Advisor.
“We know that misinformation can come in many forms and languages, which is why we’ve offered translations of some of our products about misinformation and the risk of misinformation,” he said in a statement to CNN.
CISA has just released “Disinformation Tactics,” an online brochure in Spanish and English.
However, CISA has not translated the “Rumor vs. Reality” website designed to counter election security rumors into Spanish.
The agency, Wyman said, “will continue to step up local election officials as the primary source for accurate information on how elections are conducted.”
A coalition of civil rights, Latino leadership and consumer advocacy organizations recently sent a letter to several social media companies, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, urging them to take steps ahead of the 2022 term to do more to combat hate and misinformation on their platforms. .
“Disinformation to disenfranchise Latino voters is a danger that can no longer be ignored,” says the letter from the Spanish Language Disinformation Coalition.
“If election disinformation is not addressed, our community will once again be at risk from those who seek to silence and harm us,” the letter says, noting that Latinos make up nearly 20% of the US population.
Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro said that as the Spanish-speaking share of the electorate grows, the “unchecked spread” of Spanish-language misinformation and disinformation on social media “threatens our community’s ability to participate in democracy” in October. press call with coalition.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus wrote to the CEOs of the four major social media companies (Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube) to request meetings targeting Latinos and addressing misinformation, Castro said.
“We’ve had productive conversations, but executives haven’t moved fast enough to prevent social media companies from becoming an even bigger threat to democracy in this year’s midterm elections,” Castro said.
Calzadilla called on social media platforms to do a better job of flagging fake posts in Spanish.
“Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, YouTube… all the social media platforms are doing their part to fight disinformation, in English, for example, with verification platforms, but in Spanish – it’s not enough,” he said.
A spokesperson for Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, said two-thirds of US fact-checkers review Spanish-language content on Facebook and Instagram.
The company has made improvements to Spanish disinformation models in the US, and they are now working at a level of accuracy similar to English, according to the spokesperson.
However, as for WhatsApp, Meta does not believe that private messages – in any language – should be monitored on WhatsApp or any other platform that people choose to use for their private communications, Meta spokesperson Dani Lever said in a statement. .
“But unlike many of these other platforms, we’ve taken serious steps to combat misinformation on WhatsApp by limiting advances, working with fact-checkers to create helplines in Spanish, and giving people the tools to access accurate information, including in Spanish,” Lever added.
For example, WhatsApp implemented forwarding limits and developed privacy settings to let users decide who they can add to groups, according to Lever.
Miami-based attorney Maria Cornia Vegas was recently sent a WhatsApp message from a family member that echoed QAnon-style pederasty and conspiracy theories about the Democratic Party.
Vegas said political misinformation has taken a “personal toll” on the way he connects with family and friends.
“I’ve tried really hard not to be like that,” he said, but sometimes you have to create “a little distance” between people who believe in conspiracy theories.
Vegas, who volunteered for the Biden campaign in 2020, also told CNN that Democrats need to do more to push back against conspiracy theories, saying, “If you stay silent, you’re supporting it.”
The Democratic National Committee told CNN that it is tracking misinformation targeting the Hispanic and Latino communities in English and Spanish and is working with social media companies and fact-checkers in English and Spanish to encourage action.
Earlier this year, the DNC also announced the launch of Adelante, an outreach program for Latino voters.
“It shouldn’t be up to one political party to make sure voters get the right information,” DNC Hispanic media communications director Maca Casado said in a statement.
Juan Carlos Planas, a Cuban immigrant and former GOP member of the Florida House of Representatives, said he became a Democrat in the week after the November 2020 presidential election, “when I saw that the Republicans were in denial about what a free and fair election was.”
Planas, now in Miami St. The attorney, who lectures on the electoral system at Thomas University, told CNN that he has lost friends because of “complete and utter” fabrications being posted online.
“I think people have lost the ability to appreciate democracy,” he said. “Democracy is like marriage. And I don’t think people realize that. If you take your spouse for granted, if you don’t listen, if you don’t pay attention at the end of the day, if you don’t go home listening to stories, your marriage will end.’