Latinos are the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the U.S. electorate since the last midterm elections. A total of 34.5 million Latinos are eligible to vote, making them a crucial demographic for politicians.
Latinos are also increasingly the target for disinformation campaigns.
According to Equis Research, 70% of Latinos use social media as a primary source of political and election news, where fact-checking in Spanish is often sparse. Young Latinos are more than twice as likely as the general population to use messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, which also lack fact-checking.
Jaime Dominguez, political science professor at Northwestern University, says social media entities should take responsibility for moderating disinformation on their platforms.
“As we’ve known there’s been very little or very lax oversight over those platforms. And so Latinos become very susceptible in that way,” Dominguez said. “When they receive wrong information, then in many ways that can lead them to disengage from policy and politics … so the way I see it, it’s kind of a form of voter suppression.”
“Their footprint has become a lot larger and it’s now obviously a huge footprint in the political process. I think they have an obligation to their consumers to make sure that the information that they’re putting out is actually accurate,” Dominguez continued.
Laura Trejo, senior director of strategic initiatives for Latinos Progresando, said disinformation aimed at Latinos is not limited to political purposes.
“I would say our community has seen a lot of fraud in the immigration communication that’s out there. There are a lot of predatory entities, even attorneys making false claims. And I think that has really serious repercussions for immigration status,” Trejo said.
Trejo said for government agencies and media to become trusted resources to Latino communities, it’s important to first consider language.
“In Chicago, we still have a lot of communities that speak primarily Spanish. And so I think actually putting resources towards translating in Spanish is hugely important,” Trejo said. “But I think also having some cultural vetting of Spanish language productions is also important. If something is popped into a Google Translate, you also get a lot of really unclear messaging.”
And though not all disinformation is inherently political, Voto Latino Disinformation Lab Research Manager Liz Lebron said it can have political effects down the line.
“Anything that shows mistrust in the political process, political organizations, political and government entities can sow distrust in the electoral process,” Lebron said. “Disinformation is really more about intent. Anything that tries to purposely sow that doubt in the process.”
Lebron says disinformation campaigns also trade on negative stereotypes of Latinos in the US.
“There’s a big difference in saying, I think there might be voter fraud and saying, oh, votes were illegally cast in California. That really puts a target on the Latino community because when you say votes were illegally cast, it’s usually some sort of stereotypical caricature of an undocumented person and that really puts a target,” Lebron said. “It’s not only this info that’s targeting our community, it’s also about us. So we have to deal with it in two different levels.”
To avoid being taken in by disinformation, senior research manager at the International Center for Journalists Christina Tardáguila suggests considering a few basic questions.
“Do you know where it’s coming from? Do you see the source of that information? Are you sure this is something new because some old stuff is being revamped as if it was happening today,” advised Tardáguila. “Can we know a bit about the author? Is this person or this organization really specialized in election, for example, and if it's not then we should just disregard.”
ICFJ launched a Spanish-language debunking site, Factchequeado, to combat disinformation among Latinos, as well as a site dedicated to debunking disinformation internationally. Tardáguila said the links between disinformation spread in Latin America and in the U.S. are evident.
“We just had an election in Brazil last week, and you can totally see how the ‘stop the steal’ narrative that was big in the United States in 2020 has landed there, the same thing happened in Costa Rica the same time, things happened in Colombia,” Tardáguila said. “So at the same time, the disinformers from the United States are using Latin America as labs and getting the results to reapply here. So unfortunately, there are no borders for this information, definitely.”