Spanish-language disinformation growing with escalating political rhetoric

The Hill: Rebecca Beitsch and Rafael Bernal


Communists. Election fraud. Great replacement.


With just days to go before the midterms, the tone of political rhetoric is rising and bringing a heavy dose of disinformation with it, including in Spanish, where false claims are percolating among one of the fastest-growing electorates.


Much of it is seeking to cast doubt on the validity of the U.S. voting process while pushing a number of false narratives from fringe media.


“We’ve been seeing claims that are kind of anticipating election fraud,” said M. Estrada, a researcher with Media Matters who uses only their first initial professionally, adding that many purveyors of election-related disinformation were “getting ready to spew similar narratives” seen in 2020.


In either language, disinformation spreads through a broad ecosystem composed of multiple platforms, ranging from mainstream campaign ads to online platforms to individual social media accounts.


And while it’s common for disinformation to surge ahead of an election, that process is only accelerating in Spanish media, according to researchers.


In the case of Spanish-language conservative fringe media, it’s replicating trends seen in English-language conservative media, teeing up familiar false claims about widespread voter fraud.


Media Matters this month found dozens more videos promoting false narratives about election fraud, including promoting debunked claims about ballot dumping in Georgia. Collectively, the new videos they identified racked up more than 1.6 million views combined.


But Spanish language disinformation is not confined to the voting process.


Gender politics are heavily featured in disinformation campaigns, often accusing Democrats of encouraging sex changes in minors. Abortion and the potential for late-term abortions are also a common theme, as is false data on supposed dangers of immigration or on general criminality.


Disinformation on immigration in particular can seek to divide the Hispanic community, pitting the native-born and the established immigrants against more recent arrivals.


The so-called Great Replacement Theory, a false narrative that elites are attempting to “replace” white Americans with foreign, nonwhite voters, has popped up in Spanish-language conservative media.


Among conspiracy theories, the Great Replacement Theory has proven particularly deadly — the theory has been a motivating factor in at least three racially motivated mass murders, the 2019 mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Christchurch, New Zealand, and the 2022 Buffalo, N.Y. shooting.


The varying content is thriving on YouTube, where wannabe TV personalities stream their own shows, as well as viral posts on social media and even chat apps like WhatsApp.


“People have long been talking about Spanish language as an underrepresented kind of avenue of investigation and research,” said Lee Foster, senior vice president for analysis at Alethea Group, a private company that tracks disinformation.


“Spanish language disinformation is a problem, but historically, within this space, it has not been well studied or investigated to the same extent as English disinformation.”


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