Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Misinformation, hate and the Latino vote in 2022

The midterm elections in the United States passed with a sigh of relief. After a month, we can say: it was not the “red tsunami” predicted by the Republicans. But just as remarkable as this is that apart from a couple of incidents and false claims of electoral fraud in Arizona, the elections passed in relative peace; the results adverse to the republicans were accepted with a couple of exceptions that did not have much echo.

We did not see the violence that we ourselves feared and predicted.

Tired of Trump?

The immediate explanation for the absence of the “red wave” and the relative success of the Democrats is that the electorate is tired of Trump, his cronies, his lies, his extremism, his appeal to hate as the main driver of behavior. That he voted for peace, for stability. As precisely defined by a Republican, it was the victory of “Team Normal” over “Team Crazies”.

The provocateurs, those who incited violence, those who were armed and hooded in the vicinity of the voting centers, the hackers who supposedly fanned the swamps of hostility, they lost.

But did they tried

It was especially notable that all the Republican candidates from the MAGA wing, who reject Biden’s victory in 2020, who claim fraud every time they lose and who, supported by Trump, ran for positions with influence in the elections, such as Secretary of State , which organizes, supervises and confirms them, lost. All but one.

Trump, then, even if he doesn’t like it and even if he says otherwise, he is the loser. The Big Loser.

But the misinformation did not rest for a second.

Disinformation spread to Spanish

In fact, prior to the elections, the chain of disinformation, without limits, in this cycle, the incitement in social networks, expanded to include publications in other languages and especially in Spanish.

And while most social platforms – Twitter kept less than half of its content review team and washed its hands more than the others – they did their best to combat misinformation, albeit far less than the commitment they took upon themselves in 2020, they did little to limit this wave of hostility and lies when it is not disseminated in English.

This is the headline of a recent analysis in The Guardian: “Disinformation in Spanish is prolific on Facebook, Twitter and You Tube despite vows to act”, and adds: “The failure of social media platforms to stamp out misinformation amounts to aiding and abetting the deprivation of rights”.

Congressmen protest

This process began to gain intensity in the 2020 presidential elections. As a consequence, in June 2021, some twenty Latino congressmen and allies took the initiative to write to the leaders of social platforms to express their deep concern and alarm “about the growing rate of misinformation in Spanish and other non-English languages on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Nextdoor.”

It was organized by Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.). Twenty-five members signed.

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Desinformacion y odio

“Lawmakers,” details one of them, Senator Alex Padilla of California, on his website, “highlighted the critical need to ensure that efforts to address the spread of misinformation online are adequate.”

Efforts by social platforms “to moderate in Spanish are not keeping up with those done in  English, with the widespread dissemination of viral content promoting human smuggling, vaccine hoaxes, and election misinformation.”

The congressmen (all Democrats) accused Mark Zuckerberg, owner of Facebook of: “lack of transparency regarding efforts to limit the spread of this harmful content for all languages.”

The letter “requests clear and concrete statistics on the effectiveness of the campaign and the number of full-time and contract employees dedicated to moderating non-English content. Unfortunately, the platforms did not provide the requested information on investments made in moderating content in languages other than English through human review and algorithmic processes.”

The congressmen gave the businessman until August 11 to respond to his requirements. But the date came and went without major consequences.

A web of lies

Among the most widespread lies on social media in 2020 and 2021, without doing much to stop it, were the claim that “wearing masks is a hoax, that Joe Biden wants to defund the police, and that the idea of immigrant children in cages was fake news spread by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”

The falsehoods smeared philanthropist and billionaire George Soros, accusing him of “being behind” organized illegal migration, child prostitution and “radical Islam.”

The QAnon conspiracy theories were repeated. According to it, the Democratic elite remains in power forever thanks to the blood of sacrificed children from whose bodies they supposedly obtain a magical substance.

And of course, allusions abounded to the “deep state,” which according to Oxford Languages is “a body of individuals, typically influential members of government agencies or the military, who are believed to be involved in secret control or manipulation of government policy.”

The situation did not improve much in the months after the letter, and last December, the organization Unidos US – formerly called La Raza – again denounced Facebook for its responsibility in disseminating misinformation and hate messages.

Agencies and organizations for the truth

Also in response to misinformation, Latino community organizations – led by María Teresa Kumar, executive director of Voto Latino, a national organization dedicated to “encouraging young Hispanic and Latino voters to register to vote and participate politically,” created the Latino Anti Disinformation Lab.

Another effort to counter the wave of disinformation and incitement is the site Factchequeado.com, which defines its mission as follows: “we verify the disinformation that circulates on social networks such as Facebook, TikTok, YouTube and Twitter, on WhatsApp and Telegram, and in news media. mass communication such as newscasts and newspapers, to help citizens know if the content they receive is true, false, based on little or no evidence, or lacks context.

Despite this protests and pressure by congressmen, community organizations, the media, the social platforms did not substantially correct their behavior.

In August 2022, a year after the congressional initiative, a Media Matters report found that “numerous Spanish-language videos promoting the Big Lie – that Trump allegedly won the 2020 election – continued to appear on social media platforms”, despite policies that supposedly prohibit them.”

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The report stated that while “YouTube has promised to take action against allegations of voter fraud and misinformation in Spanish, the platform continues to host videos spreading the lie of stolen elections.”

Youtube’s response

In response to the publication of the Media Matters study, in October 2022, YouTube canceled two of the main channels dedicated to disinformation: Super Viralisimo and BLes Mundo.

Desinformacion y odio campañas de desinformación republicana

However, a third channel, Epoch Times en Español, was not removed. It is the Spanish counterpart of the Epoch Times, created by a Chinese media group based in New York and international in scope that responds to the Falun Gong religious movement. The channel falsely claimed, among other things, that more than 432,000 votes for former President Donald Trump were eliminated in Pennsylvania during the 2020 presidential election.

That same month, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, told Congress that 87% of spending on fighting misinformation on Facebook is spent on English-language content, even though only 9% of its global users are English-speaking.

“Facebook invests more in users who make them more money, even if the danger is not spread evenly based on profitability,” Haugen told lawmakers, according to The Guardian.

That seems to be the root of the problem: although the disinformation spread in Spanish is as insidious or more insidious than that published in English, the effort to counter it is minimal and absolutely insufficient.

Insufficient effort

Note that the lies used in Spanish were initially identical to those spread in English. The same messages, in general, that referred to the 2020 elections.

The situation has changed in the two years since then. The lies became local. In these elections, the methods for spreading falsehoods were more sophisticated, and the messages, elaborated in a specific way for each community. For example, the accusation that President Joe Biden is a radical and dangerous socialist is more frequent among immigrants from Cuba or Venezuela who have lived under socialist governments and retain a deep hatred of that ideology.

But neither Facebook nor YouTube have agreed to remove the false accusations that “Biden is an extreme socialist” because they do not violate his policies. What the platforms ban is misleading content about voting, as well as content linked to harmful conspiracy theories like QAnon.

Another of the most popular falsehoods was that “fraudulent ballots from China and Mexico entered the United States.”

And when the regular Hispanic media tried to correct the falsehoods, many in the community called them “fake news.”

As a continuation of the letter that the congressmen sent to social media in August 2021, a year later the Latino group (caucus) of the Congress requested a meeting with the executives of Meta (Facebook), TikTok, YouTube and Twitter. The former did not appear but sent their opinions in writing.

Just like the year before, the organizations promised to take care of the situation. And they reported that they dedicate tens of thousands of employees around the world to verify the information published on their platforms.

The effect of the lie

The real fake news has been the waves of misinformation and hate launched against Latinos on social media.

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But did they make a dent?

What real effect did the wave of misinformation and hate speech have on the vote? How many unconvinced did they convince like this?

It is difficult to know now, so few days after the elections. But in the weeks leading up to the elections, there was an avalanche of political commentary that pointed out as a given that Latinos would vote for the Republican party this time. With phrases such as “Democrats still don’t understand that Hispanics no longer want them,” or “what caused the support of the Latino vote to shift to the Republicans,” they wanted to give the appearance of a fait accompli.

This change practically did not exist. More than 60% of Latinos voted Democratic, compared to 67% in 2020, 69% in 2018, but 65% in 2016. The lowest point in Hispanic support for the Democratic party was in 2002, when then-candidate George W. Bush received 41% of the Latino vote.

Desinformacion y odio

The Latino vote in 2022

In 2022 the Latino vote changed only marginally, with the exception of a single state: Florida, where Republicans received between 57% and 60% of the Latino vote.

A closer division reveals that in Florida, 67% of voters of Cuban origin voted Republican (a percentage that rises with the age of the voter), compared to 51% of those of other origin.

With the supposed increase in the Latino Republican vote, the same thing happened with the other expectations of the “red tsunami”: it was much less than expected.

So: misinformation and hate, do they work? Does the vote change? With them, are people convinced to vote the other way or to abstain from voting? There is no clear answer, but what it does do is poison the environment and undermine community confidence in the democratic political system. Which is what the promoters of those messages really, really wanted from the beginning.


This article was supported in whole or in part by funds provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library and the Latino Media Collaborative.

 

 

Founder and co-editor of Latino Los Angeles. Editor Emeritus of La Opinion, former Editor-in-Chief. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is a journalist, columnist, blogger, poet, novelist, and short story writer. Was the editorial director of Huffington Post Voces. Editor-in-chief of the weekly Tiempo in Israel. Is the father of three grown children and lives with Celia and with Rosie, Almendra and Yinyit in Los Angeles.

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