Aug 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrats target Latino misinformation

Animated illustration of a siren flashing on top of a computer.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The campaign arm for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) is turning to YouTube amid Democrats' growing concerns about misinformation targeting Latino voters.

Driving the news: Bold PAC is producing a series of videos for a new CHC YouTube channel. It has enlisted actress and TV personality Gabriela Fresquez to host a series, "Ya Tu Sabes."

  • The first video — released last week — centers on the economy. Others will address gun violence an education, as well as abortion and health care access.
  • In an introduction to the series, Fresquez references conspiracies and promises "to help you have thoughtful conversations with your friends, abuelos, or people like Tío Jorge who are still waiting for the Moderna vaccine to turn me into a 'lizard person.'"

Be smart: Both parties are closely monitoring a political realignment that has seen the Latino vote shift to the right.

  • Some Democrats told Axios they've seen internal polling that shows Latino voters aren't crediting President Biden and the party with recent gains on the economy and jobs.

The big picture: Democrats say they're focused on misinformation in four battlegrounds through November: Texas, Florida, New Mexico and Arizona.

  • A Nielsen report last year found that websites and apps more popular with Latinos in the U.S. than other groups make them more susceptible both to exposure to misinformation and to sharing it.
  • 28% of content Latinos see on news websites they most frequently visit was flagged as biased, conspiracy-based, or pseudoscientific. Nielsen also cautioned that moderated content on social platforms and traditional or algorithmic fact-checking can miss false information since much of the content shared is in Spanish or Spanglish.
  • Groups targeting misinformation are focused heavily on YouTube and WhatsApp — two digital spaces Latinos frequent the most. Telemundo this year launched an initiative with Poynter and MediaWise that includes a crash course on identifying misleading information sent through WhatsApp.

Zoom in: Bold PAC has a dedicated team tracking misinformation popping up not just online but across conservative radio and TV in these battleground states.

  • The group launched a bilingual social media initiative last fall to give Latino candidates and members of Congress talking points to call out and correct misinformation.
  • In a new development, it will release a Spanish-language version of every digital ad they create in English.

What they're saying: "Republicans have been targeting our community for some time with a lot of misinformation and lies," Bold PAC's executive director, Victoria McGroary, told Axios. "Over time, if lies go unchecked, at some point people really start believing them."

  • Maca Casado, the DNC's Hispanic media communications director, told Axios that the companies behind these platforms should step up.
  • “The DNC is doing unprecedented work to communicate the facts of Democrats’ incredibly successful legislative agenda to Hispanic and Latino voters, but it shouldn’t be incumbent on one political party to ensure voters are getting factual information and to prevent powerful media companies from spreading Republicans' rampant lies.”

The other side: Republican National Committee dismissed the effort and said it was an attempt to divert attention from the Biden administration's policies.

  • “How poorly do Democrats think of Hispanics? Democrats don’t have a messaging problem, they have a governance problem and a YouTube channel won’t address their higher taxes, open borders, rising crime. and out-of-control inflation," RNC spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez told Axios.
  • Republicans point to their Hispanic community centers they've launched in Latino neighborhoods, including a new one last week along Albuquerque's Route 66.

By the numbers: A 2021 poll by the Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab, run by the left-leaning Media Matters and Voto Latino, found that 53% of Latinos received harmful information about the COVID-19 vaccine on Facebook, and 44% on messaging apps.

  • The poll of 1,896 voters nationwide showed that a majority (51%) of Latino respondents said they believe the COVID-19 vaccine wasn't safe.
  • Another poll of 2,464 Latinos this year found that 66% of Latinos reported seeing false information about Democratic officials tampering with ballots.

Flashback: An analysis of the 2020 election by the Latino research firm Equis, reviewed by Axios, found that YouTube played a significant role in convincing some Latino voters to support former President Trump in higher percentages than expected by carefully targeting them.

  • Equis' Carlos Odio said many of those targeted Spanish-language videos posted on YouTube purporting to be news analyses coming from Latin America were filled with misinformation.
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