As the countdown to the November 8, 2022 midterm elections begins, disinformation campaigns on social platforms—and even traditional media—are spreading like weeds, as they have since 2016. And now they have an unapologetic ally in the Republican Party, which not only reproduces disinformation, but has normalized the extremist rhetoric of white supremacist groups.
It’s a strategy to which they have resorted due to the fear of losing privilege and out of hypocrisy, more than a vision of a State and a government working for the common good, knowing that the United States changed a while ago, displacing—by democratic means and through inclusion—the idea of a white nation for white people, alone.
And it is a lethal cocktail, because the falsehoods that they use to agitate their political base, intimidate opponents, and generate confusion among the population with political-electoral ends are fused with the racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric that is an integral part of this party’s campaign messaging.
We must not forget that this anti-immigrant step gained strength precisely in the “Trump era,” when he won not only the presidential nomination of a Republican Party beholden to his ideas, but managed to gain the White House through the most racist and xenophobic campaign, which succeeded in capturing the minds of millions of white people, blaming immigrants and diverse minorities of color for all the country’s ills.
In fact, conspiracy theories about the “invasion” of migrants at the southern border and the “replacement theory” are openly used by Republican legislators and candidates. And Republican leaders in Congress know it but are playing the long game, legitimizing those concepts that used to be ascribed only to fringe extremist and white supremacist groups.
This destabilizing disinformation has serious consequences in the real world. The people responsible for massacres targeting minorities in different parts of the country have cited some of these theories as the reason for carrying out their attacks.
On the other hand, Spanish-speaking audiences are one of the favorite targets of many of these disinformation campaigns. In Florida, in the 2020 elections, diverse social platforms and some radio shows in Spanish spread the lie that then presidential hopeful Joe Biden was a “communist” and his policies were “socialist” in nature, similar to those of Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro. In that state where Cubans, Cuban Americans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and Hondurans—among others—are concentrated, the word “communism” is the same as invoking the devil, such that the intention of harming Biden and benefiting Trump had a very receptive audience, even though it was a lie.
Florida, essentially, is fertile ground for disinformation campaigns and also a laboratory for the use of anti-immigrant rhetoric, even by Latino officials. Florida’s Lieutenant Governor Jeannette Núñez, a Cuban American, made news talking about the large number of Cubans who are arriving in this state in a radio interview, saying that Governor Ron DeSantis should send migrants to Delaware, Biden’s state, in buses, just like Texas Governor Greg Abbott has done to New York and Washington, DC.
And although DeSantis’ campaign team later tried to amend the foolish comment of the Lieutenant Governor, saying she was not referring to Cubans but rather, other migrants, the damage was done, as the interviewer’s question was specifically about the Cuban community, the one with the largest presence in their state. In fact, Núñez said in this interview that “this is going to be worse than Mariel, worse than everything that happened when we saw the impact of the 80s and to do nothing is not an option.”
Really? That a Cuban American, daughter of Cuban refugees, would say that other Cubans seeking asylum in the United States should be sent to Delaware in buses would be news anywhere. It’s also evidence of Republicans’ double talk, especially Hispanic Republicans who want to sell the false idea of an inclusive party to attract Latino voters, while they repeat an anti-immigrant and offensive narrative about their own community.
And they do it willingly because their loyalty is with the party and with Trump, not their community. But we cannot ascribe this phenomenon to the Cuban community exclusively, as in each and every one of the Latin American groupings that converge in the United States there are some who prefer to reject the advancement of the social plurality that we are living in and embrace an offensive discourse, even though at bottom they will never be completely welcomed among the supremacists they promote.
Spanish news, particularly the main television channels Univision (El Detector de Mentiras) and Telemundo (TVerifica), among others, as well as diverse independent organizations, monitor the information in order to keep their audiences informed about what is real and what is false. It’s a big step in the right direction, but at the same time it’s a symptom of these times in which fake news destroys the truth.
It’s a titanic undertaking, especially in the face of the proliferation of social platforms where Latinos get information, particularly YouTube and WhatsApp. Although platforms like Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and others say they are implementing measures regarding the information that is circulated, how they will control falsehoods—especially in Spanish—is neither clear nor a given. Just listen or read certain comments from users regarding specific topics and you will realize that, essentially, the propagation of lies finds fertile ground in a lack of arguments.
Worst of all, the Republican Party—principal promoter of falsehoods—is blurring the line between what is real and what is a lie, for political convenience.