Major parties want Latino voters. They also attract electoral misinformation (Part-1).

Phoenix — In Radio Campesina's Phoenix recording studio, a Spanish-speaking host spoke amid ranchera music. “Friends of Campesina, in these elections, truth and unity are more important than ever,” stated Tony Arias on the morning show. “Don’t let disinformation trap you.”  

The recording promoted Radio Campesina's new program to empower Latino voters before the 2024 elections. On air, they examine election-related misinformation and fact-check conspiracy theories.  

Chavez Radio Group, the nonprofit that operates Radio Campesina, a network of Spanish-language stations in Arizona, California, and Nevada, is committed to combating disinformation in their communities, according to María Barquín, program director. More is at stake for our communities in 2024. We must intensify these efforts now more than ever.”  

According to a Pew Research Center analysis, Latinos have grown at the second-fastest rate, behind Asian Americans, since the last presidential election. They are expected to make up 14.7%, or 36.2 million, of eligible voters in November, a new high. Republican and Democratic campaigns are targeting them in Arizona, California, and Nevada, where they represent a growing constituency.  

In 2020, Latino voters helped Democratic President Joe Biden defeat Republican Donald Trump. He wants them to help him win again in November. Due to the high stakes of a presidential election year, analysts expect audio and video misinformation to target Spanish-speaking voters.  

Latinos have immense voting power and can make a decisive difference in elections, yet they are an under-messaged, under-prioritized audience,” said NALEO Educational Fund CEO Arturo Vargas. “Our vote matters. Bad actors realize this and misinform to influence Latino voters.  

Latinos get their news from radio, podcasts, and social media like Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube. These networks have reduced Spanish content control as right-wing influencers spread electoral lies and QAnon conspiracies. Conspiracies concerning mail voting, dead persons voting, rigged voting machines, and polling place threats are common in conservative media and the internet.  

Other Latino-specific narratives exploit traumas and concerns by spreading misleading information about immigration, inflation, and abortion rights. Spanish speakers who moved from countries with recent authoritarianism, socialism, high inflation, and election fraud may be more susceptible to misinformation.  

Airwave misinformation is harder to track and combat than text-based misinformation, said Daiquiri Ryan Mercado, strategic legal adviser and policy counsel for the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which runs the Spanish Language Disinformation Coalition. Misinformation researchers can write systems to track text-based misinformation, but audio requires manual listening. Radio stations that air only in certain places at certain times are hard to track.

With such limited representation, Spanish speakers feel like they can connect to these people and become trusted messengers,” Mercado said. “But some may exploit that trust.” Mercado and others said that's why Radio Campesina and other reliable messengers are crucial. Since its founding by Mexican American labor and civil rights activist César Chavez, the station has garnered dedicated listeners. Barquín reported that 750,000 people listen to Chavez Radio Network on air and online at any given time.  

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