Ahead of election day, Latinos are seeing not just more political ads but also plenty of disinformation.
Amy Yee reports for The Guardian:
Messages that paint Joe Biden as a socialist spreading among conservative Latinos from Cuba and Venezuela. Conspiracy theories on YouTube about Barack Obama in Spanish. Billboards and posters falsely claiming that voting by mail is illegal in Texas.
“We usually see this kind of information disorder in locations with a large Latinx population, such as Miami, Houston or Los Angeles,” said Daniel Acosta Ramos, an investigative researcher at the non-profit First Draft.
Disinformation as a means of causing confusion, doubt and fear around voting is nothing new during campaigns, but social media make it easier to generate and spread. Latinos in particular are targets because they are a critical voting bloc, especially in battlegrounds such as Florida, Arizona and Texas.
In Florida, 20% of eligible voters in 2018 were Hispanic, nearly double the share in 2000, according to Pew Research. In Arizona, Hispanics accounted for 24% of all eligible voters in 2018. Latinos are also politically diverse – for example, Cuban Americans tend to vote Republican, while Puerto Ricans lean Democrat – so dissuading voting in Latino communities, even subtly, could tip an election.
There are several types of digital voting disinformation, such as giving the wrong time, place or manner of voting, according to democracy watchdog Common Cause. And during Covid-19, when normal routines are disrupted, online disinformation tactics are “much more believable and have a greater impact today than any other election cycle”, said Jesse Littlewood, vice-president at Common Cause, in a webinar.
That has real-world effects. In Arizona, early voting began early this month and “there has already been the feeling of intimidation at the polls when Trump supporters show up at the same time,” said Hector Sanchez Barba, chief executive of Mi Familia Vota, the Latino civic engagement non-profit.
Instances of intimidating Latino voters are fueled by false but divisive disinformation that undocumented immigrants are voting illegally. There are also false narratives about vote rigging, conspiracy theories or intimidation, such as telling people immigration authorities will patrol polling stations.