WASHINGTON (NWN) — Ahead of last year’s presidential election, Facebook ads targeting Latino voters described Joe Biden as a communist. During his inauguration, another conspiracy theory spread online and on Spanish-language radio warnings that the brooch worn by Lady Gaga indicated Biden was working with shady, left-wing figures abroad.
And in the final stages of Virginia’s gubernatorial election, stories written in Spanish accused Biden of ordering the arrest of a man during a school board meeting.
None of this was true. But this kind of misinformation represents a growing threat. For Democrats, who are concerned about standing with Latino voters last year after surprising losses in places like South Florida and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
In a midterm election in which Congress’s control is at stake, lawmakers, researchers and activists are preparing for another onslaught of lies targeted at Spanish-speaking voters. And they say that the social media platforms that often host those misconceptions are not ready.
“For many people, there is great concern that 2022 will be another big wave,” said Guy Mantle, executive director of Global Americans, a think tank that provides analysis of key issues across the US.
This month’s elections can be a preview of what is to come.
After Democratic incumbent Phil Murphy won the race for governor close to New Jersey, Spanish-language video falsely claimed the vote was rigged, despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud – a fact acknowledged by the Republican nominee. , calling The result is “legal and fair.”
In Virginia, where Republican Glenn Youngkin successfully campaigned on promises to protect “parental rights” in classrooms, false headlines emerged around a controversial school board meeting.
“Biden Ordeno Arrest a Padre de Una Joven Violada Por Un Trans,” read one of several misleading articles, translated as “Biden orders the arrest of a father whose daughter was raped by a trans.”
The distrust was cut by a dispute during a chaotic school board meeting Months earlier in Loudoun County that resulted in the arrest of a father whose daughter was sexually assaulted by another student in the bathroom. The father claimed the suspect was “gender fluid,” which chimed in on the school’s policy to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matched their gender identity.
In fact, the White House was not involved in the meeting. The man was arrested by the local sheriff’s department. It is also not clear how the suspect was identified.
Loudoun County was already the epicenter of the earthquake. A heated political debate over how the history of racism is taught in schools – another issue who became the fodder of rumors And this summer political attacks on Spanish-language websites, said María Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino, a nonprofit that encourages Hispanics to become politically involved.
“It has everything to do with trust in institutions. Trust the government,” said Kumar, whose group works to combat misinformation. “Erasing that trust will not only shift to voting in the midterm, but will lead to complete disengagement from your government.”
Fractured truths accusing some Democrats of being socialists or communists may also dominate the online narrative, said Diego Groisman, a research analyst at New York University’s Cybersecurity for Democracy Project.
During the 2020 election, Groisman flagged Facebook ads targeting Latino voters in Texas and Florida, describing Biden as a “communist.” Advertising in Florida — where most of the country’s Venezuelan population is concentrated – Compared Biden to the socialist president of that country, Nicolas Maduro.
“There were clearly specific Spanish-speaking communities that were being targeted,” said lead researcher Laura Adelson of NYU’s program.
Florida Democratic strategist Evelyn Pérez-Verdia, who sees Spanish misinformation patterns, says many online narratives intentionally create “fear in Spanish-speaking communities.”
One conspiracy theory mentioned on talk radio originated from Lady Gaga’s Golden Bird brooch at Biden’s inauguration. Some spreading this claim noted a similar brooch once worn by Claudia López Hernández, the first openly gay mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, indicating that the new president was working with foreign leftists.
“They’re not going to stop. They’re going to double it,” Perez-Verdia said of the misinformation.
Critics argue that social media companies such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp owner Meta have focused more on removing or fact-checking misinformation in English than in other languages such as Spanish.
Facebook’s own documents leaked Frances Hogen, a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower earlier this year, echoes those concerns. Haugen said the company spends 87 percent of its misinformation budget on US content — a figure that Meta spokesman Kevin McAllister said is “out of context.”
An internal Facebook memo written in March revealed The company’s ability to detect anti-vaccine rhetoric and misinformation in non-English comments was “basically non-existent”.
Last year, for example, Instagram and Facebook banned “#plandemic,” a hashtag associated with videos filled with COVID-19 conspiracy theories. Yet users were spreading misinformation across platforms using “#plandemia,” the Spanish version of the hashtag, until last month.
an analysis Last year, pro-leftist group Avaaz, which tracks misinformation online, also found that Facebook failed to flag 70% of Spanish-language misinformation about COVID-19, compared to only 29% of such information in English.
McAllister said the company removes false Spanish-language claims about voter fraud, COVID-19 and vaccines. Four news outlets, including The Associated Press, also fact-check the Spanish-language lies circulating around American content on Instagram and Facebook.
Meanwhile, researchers from the non-biased Global Disinformation Index estimated That Google will make $12 million this year from ads on websites that promote COVID-19 propaganda in Spanish. “Google has stopped serving ads on most of the pages shared in the report,” company spokesman Michael Aciman said in an email.
“Spanish-language misinformation campaigns are absolutely exploding on social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, etc.,” New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the party’s top progressive voices, tweeted After the November 2 election.
That explosion has been fueled in part by the US-Latin America feedback loop that perpetuates lies.
Misinformation originating on American websites is sometimes translated by social media pages in Latin American countries such as Colombia and Venezuela. Inaccuracies are shared back via YouTube videos or messaging apps with Spanish speakers in expatriate communities such as Miami and Houston.
According to an October Nielsen report, those lies are more likely to reach US Latinos because they spend more time on sites like YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram.,
“We see YouTube accounts or radio stations churning out completely false or misinformation that they pick up from fringe US outlets,” Mantel said.
Some are working to fill the void of credible information in those communities.
Oakland, Calif., news service El Timpano delivers a text message of local news in Spanish to about 2,000 subscribers each week. Madeleine Blair, who launched El Timpano, said subscribers can text back with questions the staff works to answer.
The news service has asked more than 1,500 questions in the past year, including those about fraudulent COVID-19 cures.
“We really moved forward because it was clear that the communities we were serving were most in need of basic public health information,” Blair said. And that information was not reaching them.
Others have urged the government to play a role of surveillance. Federal Trade Commission Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, a Democrat, said the regulator could see disparities in how Big Tech monitors English-language propaganda compared to other languages.
“The first thing I think we need to investigate,” Slaughter said during a panel with lawmakers in November.
Associated Press writers Marcos Martínez Chacón in Monterrey, Mexico, Abril Mulato in Mexico City and Marcy Gordon in Washington contributed to this report.