Misinformation disproportionately targeting minorities ahead of 2022 midterm elections

Published: Oct. 24, 2022 at 4:38 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Americans in minority communities face increased misinformation threats ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

While about 40 percent of Americans feel “very confident” in their ability to recognize fake news, bipartisan nonprofit Mi Familia Vota works to improve that number in Latino communities.

Jesus Rubio works for the bipartisan nonprofit, walking door to door with pamphlets about candidates on the Georgia ballot.

“If people are misinformed by a family member or community member, they can at least have those myths debunked,” said Rubio.

Bret Schafer with Alliance for Securing Democracy studies misinformation tactics, which have grown exponentially over the last few election cycles. Schafer said Black communities and non-English speakers are targeted the most.

“They have the most influence. They have the most at stake,” explained Schafer.

Misinformation targeting American voters can come from overseas, but most sources can be traced back to “bad actors” in the U.S.

Many of these bad actors use false identities to infiltrate communities as seemingly trusted sources.

“Steal a profile picture, put a fake bio up – it’s very easy to give this perception to be part of these communities,” said Schafer.

Bad actors also take advantage of language gaps, which can leave space for false information.

“There’s a lot of very specific cultural references in political life that pertain to people’s countries of origin,” said Rubio.

Experts said false claims are spread over platforms with less regulation like WhatsApp.

“Those are hard spaces to moderate. Those are hard places to fact-check,” said Schafer. “A lot of these communities are not getting resources to fact check the information there, and in some cases, it’s happening on private platforms like WhatsApp.”

Rubio shared he had seen misinformation shared in his own circle over the platform.

“I’m on a big family WhatsApp, and my grandma will get chain messages,” said Rubio. “Other family members and I have to debunk within our own family. It’s more pervasive than you think.”

Rubio said misinformation spread over the social media platform is specifically cultivated to target older Latino voters.

“What makes it particularly dangerous is the ability to share content without any sort of filter. People can share links or videos specifically produced for WhatsApp and the target audience is Latino voters who are slightly older and maybe not as adept,” said Rubio.

WhatsApp offers tips to mitigate the spread of fake news. Users should be aware of “forwarded” messages, messages with spelling or grammar mistakes, or messages asking for personal information. Users should also check their biases and cross-check news shared on the platform to curb the spread of fake news.