Many Latinos are seeing more misinformation and less reliable news. Will they vote?
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Latino Media Ecosystems and the Rise of Latino Targeted Misinformation
Latinos have historically been less politically engaged than whites or other minority groups, voting at relatively lower rates.
Why? Although the answer is complicated, one of the reasons is that they do not have credible information about the American political process.
As ethnic newspapers close across the country, many Latinos whose first or primary language is Spanish are living in information deserts. Even when they can find news media in Spanish, these outlets often pay less attention to domestic politics than their English-speaking counterparts. As a result, Spanish-speaking Latinos may receive less information about American politics than other groups.
During the 2020 elections, WhatsApp groups and social networks in Spanish were filled with false statements. The House Hispanic Caucus pushed YouTube and other social media executives to crack down on the issue, but Spanish-language social media discussions about covid-19 and election integrity continued to fester by misinformation. Many platforms fail to moderate or report fake content in Spanish. Meanwhile, ethnic media did not fully invest in fact-checking tools until months before the election, making it harder to counter false claims.
It is important. My research with political scientists Ethan Porter and Thomas Wood revealed that fact-checking is indeed an effective antidote to medical and political misinformation. As a follow-up to this study, in April and May 2021, we collected data from a sample of 2,869 self-identified Latinos using online survey providers Lucid and CloudResearch. We randomly assigned participants to read three of eight possible claims about politics and medicine, such as whether coronavirus vaccines alter DNA or whether antifa members were bused to DC for the insurgency. January 6.
For each claim, participants were randomly assigned to view one of three pages: a page that instructed them to continue to the next part of the study; a screenshot of the misinformation; or a screenshot of the misinformation followed by a fact check correction. We measured their beliefs for each of the three statements before and after reading the assigned plays.
We found that those who read the false information alone were more likely to believe the false claims, but those who read the fact check afterwards reliably rejected those false claims. In fact, on average, people who read the fact check after reading the misinformation actually reported more accurate beliefs than those in the control group who simply reported their beliefs after seeing a neutral instruction page.
In other words, our research reveals that when Latinos read verified articles that correct misinformation, they change what they believe. This was true for English and Spanish speakers, liberals and conservatives, and Latinos with different media regimes. More fact-checking within Latino media ecosystems can be a way to improve community knowledge.
Who gets vaccinated? The answer has changed since the first wave.
So, would better information improve the vote?
Recent studies suggest that traditional Spanish-language media may not offer the kind of credible information that Latinos need. Those who consume media in Spanish are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. The Latinos in our study — both those who generally followed ethnic media and those who followed English-language media — were influenced by misinformation, believing inaccurate claims about politics and medicine. But even if Latino-focused media offered high-quality fact-checking, Latinos might not read or absorb it.
To try to ensure Latinos are seeing accurate information, several nonprofit media organizations — including El Timpano, Enlace Latino NC, and Conecta Arizona — have jumped in to offer accurate information in accessible formats like WhatsApp, e -emails and SMS. Consumers can communicate directly with these outlets, asking questions and getting answers from local reporters, allowing the outlets to provide the information the public wants and needs. These operations are experimenting with other formats like podcasts, blogs and email newsletters, and producing in-depth guides on everything from elections to immigration law.
This year, I partnered with these three outlets to examine how their work affects Latinos. We recruited 1,829 Spanish-dominant Instagram and Facebook users to complete an online survey about current events. Of those who responded to the baseline survey, 378 agreed to participate in a long-term news consumption study. Those who signed up were randomly assigned to follow either community-focused media in their state (eg, Enlace Latino NC if they resided in North Carolina) or mainstream media for two months. They agreed to take news quizzes every two weeks, knowing that they would receive $5 bonuses for getting enough answers right.
After two months, we stopped the news quizzes, but we recontacted the participants several weeks later for a final survey. This way, we could see if they continued to follow the news on their own.
With the 2022 midterms coming up, expect another Latin American misinformation crisis
Throughout the study, we found that people reading or listening to one of the community news outlets were more likely to be aware of local events and politics than those responsible for following more traditional news. . Both groups were about equally likely to know and understand national political events.
We also found that those who followed community-focused news were more likely to say they felt “qualified to participate in politics” than those who followed traditional news – and more likely to say they would vote in mid-term. However, we did not observe differences in media trust or political trust between those who consumed the community outlet and those who did not.
For many, following the news has become a habit they have kept. Several weeks after bonuses ended for consuming the news, most continued to follow their assigned outlet. Consumers of community-centric news have not returned to traditional news consumption. We also found that those who started out saying they preferred to follow the news and those who said they usually follow entertainment all became more informed and engaged. These alternative media can reach people who do not pay attention to traditional information.
Of course, these findings are preliminary; we do not yet know if our respondents will actually go to the polls, as they said. But regardless of the source, helping Latinos find high-quality information could help fight misinformation while bringing them more into the body politic.
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Yamil Ricardo Velez (@YamilRVelez) is an assistant professor of political science at Columbia University.