Latino voters face disinformation wave ahead of US elections


Latino voters in important swing states like Florida are being hit with a wave of Spanish-language misinformation ahead of the November 3 United States elections, in which their votes could play a key role in the outcome.

Ranging from unproven voter fraud allegations to “Deep State” plots against President Donald Trump, Florida Latinos are facing a “major spike” in exposure to conspiracy theories related to the election and its candidates across social media, messaging apps, the radio, and YouTube, according to local reports.

In Florida, the Spanish-language misinformation has largely targeted Democrats and progressive causes. One conspiracy theory, which claims that Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden has a “problem” with pedophilia, has been amplified by a Venezuela-focused news website and also by a Puerto-Rican born pastor on Facebook, according to Politico.

Other misinformation includes comparisons between Black Lives Matter protesters and Nazis, as referenced in an advertisement in Miami’s local Spanish-language newspaper, El Nuevo Herald, and accusations by radio guests that absentee voting is “throwing your ballot into a tomb”.

El Nuevo Herald’s editor has since apologized for running the advertisement.

While it is hard to measure the potential impact of such misinformation, a 2019 Pew Research Center study found 43 percent of residents in “higher-share Hispanic areas” view local media as “influential”.

In “higher-share white areas”, 37 percent felt the same about local media, with 40 percent of residents in “higher-share Black areas” responding similarly.

Beyond traditional media, social media like Facebook, YouTube, and encrypted messaging service WhatsApp – which Facebook owns and which is popular among the Spanish-speaking population in Florida – are also rife with conspiracy theories, according to reports.

While it is difficult to quantify how many views are received by posts and messages on Facebook or WhatsApp, Spanish-language YouTube videos discussing Biden’s “sexual record” have hundreds of thousands of views.

“Our community is digesting misinformation at an alarming rate”, Eduardo Gamarra, a professor of politics at Florida International University in Miami who tracks voting attitudes, told ABC News.

“There’s a significant amount of activity of broad conspiracy theories that have all the worst of American politics … and they have filtered into Latino households”, Gamarra said.

Much of it appears to be linked to QAnon, a set of intertwining conspiracies that claim Trump was elected to combat a satanic cabal of liberal elites who engage in child sex trafficking, harvesting chemicals from adolescent blood to keep themselves young.

“Misinformation is not new in politics and heavily targets predominantly Spanish-speaking Latinos across the country, like in Florida”, said Eileen Garcia, communications director for Solidarity Strategies, a Latino-owned political consulting firm based in Washington, DC that works to elect progressive candidates.

“We saw in 2016 and are seeing again in 2020 Donald Trump and the Republicans not only attacking Latinos but actively trying to prevent us from voting through misinformation and ‘voter suppression’ efforts”, she told Al Jazeera.

Republicans deny any efforts to engage in voter suppression and it is difficult to pinpoint the source of many of the conspiracies circulating across social media.