Keep Alert for Outbreak of Spanish Electoral Infodemic

José López Zamorano | La Red Hispana 
Photo Credit: Esther Vargas / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

With the November 8 election just around the corner, it’s only natural that a handful of the Latino community’s leading advocacy organizations are raising the bar for what they perceive to be an outbreak of the fearsome electoral infodemic, directed specifically against our community and in Spanish.

The 35 million Latinos eligible to vote this November 8 — a key midterm election due to the renewal of the House of Representatives, 35 Senate seats, 36 governorships and thousands of elected positions — are particularly vulnerable for one reason: 43% of our community only gets their news from YouTube and 37% from Facebook.

A new study by the Media Matters organization illustrates the size of the problem: they managed to identify at least fifty videos on YouTube plagued with disinformation aimed at confusing voters about the platforms of the candidates, the alleged existence of fraud election, and the false presence of immigration agents in the voting centers.

And in an attempt to confuse and mislead Latino voters, another set of messages in Spanish included misleading information about the day of the vote, who was eligible to vote, the location of the polls, and the opening and closing hours of the polls.

Beyond the authorship of these messages, the objective was clear: to suppress the Latino vote, especially in states where their electoral weight is influential enough to guide the final outcome of the elections. We are talking about the so-called “battleground” states, such as Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Pennsylvania, among others.

For Arturo Vargas, director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), the prevalence of misinformation on different media platforms exemplifies a systemic problem of inequity that affects the Latino community and other communities.”

“This issue is a contributing factor in limiting the Latino population in the community’s ability to fully access and participate in our nation’s political processes,” he warns.

The leadership of the largest social media platforms defend themselves on the grounds that they have allocated considerable resources and have hired thousands of workers dedicated exclusively to detecting disinformation. However, Latino organizations complain that whatever their actions may have been, they are clearly insufficient.

“We are frustrated. We are here again to tell the platforms that they must do more to end the exploitation of our community through misinformation and online fraud,” said Brenda Victoria Castillo, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

Tired of waiting, NALEO launched an initiative called “Defend the Truth” to equip community leaders and other stakeholders with the tools they need to identify and counter misinformation and disinformation so they can better address the challenges facing the community. Latino community when participating in the American civic and political process.

This is of course a commendable initiative, but ultimately success in neutralizing disinformation will largely depend on having conscientious, alert and well-informed voters who not only ignore disinformation, but avoid becoming its unwitting disseminators.