Spanish-language disinformation harassed Democrats in U.S. election

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By Christopher Bing, Elizabeth Culliford and Paresh Dave

Nov. 7 (Reuters) – Spanish-language disinformation flourished online during the U.S. election era, even as social media companies mobilized to stem lies that could affect the vote or spark violence.

Spanish-language social media posts from online celebrities, radio commentators and others have repeatedly questioned the reliability of the postal vote and falsely described presidential candidate Joe Biden as a socialist, according to Spanish disinformation experts and publications seen by Reuters.

Other posts pushed QAnon in Spanish, a conspiracy theory that claims incumbent President Donald Trump is fighting a “deep state” sex trafficker cabal and describes Biden as a “superpredator” or a “pedophile,” said These persons.

Social media companies have introduced new rules to crack down on election-related misinformation by tagging content, limiting its scope or removing it, but enforcement has been patchy.

While Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube, Twitter Inc (NYSE 🙂 TWTR.N and Facebook Inc have all taken action against some false or misleading messages in Spanish, many more remain online and have continued to spread, Reuters found.

“On Facebook and other platforms, it takes longer for them to report and take action when the post is in Spanish than in English,” said Daniel Acosta Ramos, an investigative researcher at First Draft, saying echoed a complaint made by four other experts who spoke with Reuters.

A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter, but said the company had taken several steps to tackle disinformation in Spanish, including adding two new fact-checking partners in Spanish ahead of the election. She did not address a list of posts and videos shared by Reuters that appear to violate company policies.

Social media researchers have also expressed concern over the spread of misinformation on the WhatsApp messaging service.

Lisa Zayas, a progressive organizer in Florida, provided Reuters with examples of Spanish-language disinformation being disseminated through several WhatsApp channels used in her local community. The memes and graphics portray an image of a Democratic challenger determined to pass laws “against” the church.

Disinformation on WhatsApp remains particularly difficult to study or counter, as it involves private messages. Zayas said the examples she noticed were usually from Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, but delivered in the chat app.

“There have been other countries that have had democratic elections where there has been a lot more peer-to-peer disinformation, especially India and Brazil, due to the deep penetration of WhatsApp and it is so possible that it played a role here, ”said Alex Stamos, former head of information security for Facebook.

A spokesperson for WhatsApp said a new policy limiting message transmission was an important tool in the fight against disinformation.

‘SLAVES OF THE MATRIX’

Spanish-speaking voters are a key constituency in several battlefield states, and support for Biden among those voters was weaker than expected in some areas. In Florida, Republican Trump won 45% of the Latin American vote, an 11-point improvement from 2016.

It is not known whether such misinformation has had an impact on the Latino vote, which is made up of diverse nationalities and interests, this year.

Avaaz, a global civic organization, said Thursday it found at least 43 Spanish-language social media posts promoting false stories about the election. The content has generated more than 1.4 million social media interactions to date, he added.

The group cited several examples, including two Facebook pages described as “news and media websites”. Each is named “Slaves of the Matrix” and “Mr.capacho en vivo” respectively and has more than 250,000 combined subscribers. Their posts regularly attract tens of thousands of viewers and thousands of comments and shares.

Both pages claimed Trump won re-election, before the ballots were all counted, Democrats were trying to steal votes and warned of an impending social media blackout. Posts making false statements were not fact-checked, but contained Facebook tags that directed users to “View Election Updates.”

Media intelligence firm Zignal Labs also told Reuters it had noticed a wave of social media and internet forum posts in Spanish linking Biden to pedophilia in the run-up to November 3. They were spread across several internet platforms analyzed by Zignal, including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, and amateur news blogs.

Zignal said he found more than 7,000 mentions containing a combination of the phrases “Biden” or “Hunter” and “pedófilo” on election day and more than 40,000 in the weeks leading up to it. He captured 12,596 more mentions Tuesday in Spanish referring to Biden’s election theft.

Many messages remain active and have not been deleted.

YouTube removed two videos containing misinformation about the election in Spanish that had racked up thousands of views after Reuters reported them to a spokesperson, who said company policies were being applied “consistently across the board. all languages ​​and regions “.

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