On the trail of disinformation in the Latino vote

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Fake news and conspiracy theories proliferate among Spanish-speakers in the United States through WhatsApp chains impossible to control

The entire Democratic apparatus – with Joe Biden at the helm, along with Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton – involved in a plot of child trafficking; the Leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, getting off a plane drunk; Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris calling young people “stupid”; Donald Trump, pending trial for raping a 13-year-old girl … All that is a lie. But on WhatsApp networks, in Facebook groups and among the most viral on Twitter, these false news proliferate to cloud the political debate nine days before the presidential elections in the United States.

Large social media firms have learned from the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2016 and the massive use of data to influence public opinion. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have taken some steps within weeks of the elections to reduce the ability of their channels to spread hoaxes and conspiracy theories. But there is a network almost impossible to control, which also has the Hispanic vote as its star users in the United States: WhatsApp. In the messaging application, measuring the virality of lies and detecting the most shared would be the equivalent of arbitrating the private conversation between two or more close people.

“Americans who speak English [como primer idioma] they don’t use WhatsApp. It is not a popular application among them, who use more iPhone messages or traditional messages. Also a lot of Messenger and Facebook. So what we are seeing is that there are two countries in one. One who speaks English and when we talk about fake news they think of Facebook, Twitter and Tik Tok, and then the United States that speaks in Spanish and thinks of WhatsApp. It is very interesting how they are in these elections and there is the challenge to bring the fact check [comprobación de datos] to the Hispanic voter ”, explains the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network association, Cristina Tardáguila, who coordinates an ambitious project to combat false news in the country in which 12 national media collaborate, two of them in Spanish. like Univision and Telemundo.

A large part of the Hispanic voter, key to the elections and traditionally manipulated, is found in Florida, with a population of voters of 3.1 million, mostly of Cuban and Puerto Rican origin, residing in the south of the state. In this corner of the southeastern part of the country, messages about Joe Biden’s relationship with Fidel Castro’s socialism have escalated from workgroups or family barbecue to candidate campaign rallies. “My opponent wants to give everything to Cuba and the Castros, and he also wants to give everything to Nicaragua and Venezuela,” declared Trump at one of his rallies in Orlando (Florida), and with those mentions he pointed to three key communities with a single shot. The origin and the consequence, more hoaxes on WhatsApp.

“With everything that happened in Mexico, Spain or Brazil, politicians realized that WhatsApp is a difficult space to check, but that it has a great use. It’s the dangerous mix. They are fundamental voters for the country and they use a tool without control and it is also not in the main language of the United States. Therefore, the traditional press does not publish in Spanish, the access of this community to rigorous information is less ”, adds Tardáguila. Their project has created a tool within the social network to make inquiries about news or hoaxes in Spanish or English and they respond with the confirmed information. It can be activated in the link hola.factchat.me.

The coordinator of the Univisión project to deny fake newsThe Detector, Tamoa Calzadilla, realized how far the hoaxes had spread in Miami when his 11-year-old son surprised him one day: “Mom, Joe Biden is bad, because the kids at my school say he likes it. smell the children, ”he recalls. “For the first time in these elections [la comunidad hispana] is the largest minority in the United States and most of the traditional press fact checking [comprobación de datos] It is in English, it seemed so disparate to us, the Hispanic community was neglected. It seemed very key to us because we want to think that this helps to make a better decision ”, adds Calzadilla.

The two journalists agree that only one hoax does not change a vote. Its not that easy. But it is a reflection of the polarization of society, which in Miami (South Florida) has reached historic levels. Trump supporters have peppered the city with parades through the streets or shouting at the doors of any Democratic event; and the arguments by both parties have escalated to disputes in supermarkets and family meals, the neighbors say. Something that, although orderly and not so chaotic, is unprecedented for this city.

In an act by Obama to ask for the Democratic vote this Saturday in north Miami, some Cuban sisters explained how frustrating the political debate has become in this part of the country. Marcy Grosso and Vivian Bertier, 53 and 58, raised since the age of eight in Miami, exhausted, explained how difficult it is for many acquaintances and relatives for them to vote for the Democrats. “They call us communists. Imagine that a Cuban woman is called a communist, it’s tremendous ”, explained Bertier.

Obama, like Joe Biden, took the stand to repeat that the Democratic candidate was not a socialist. Something obvious, also given the veteran career of the former vice president, but when the microphones are turned off he becomes entangled. The hoaxes continue. And in the medium through which Hispanics speak among themselves, lies are reproduced without shame. “It is your people, with whom you have the group of My grill with friends. They try to convince that group that Biden is the devil, ”explains Calzadilla. The proximity of false messages at election time has become dangerous for the political debate.

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