One of the big surprises of the 2020 election was how even though most Latino voters across the U.S. voted for Joe Biden, in some counties of competitive states like Florida and Texas, a higher-than-expected percentage of Latinos supported Donald Trump. One factor that many believe played a role: online misinformation about the Democratic candidate.
Another important subject that’s been victim of a massive misinformation campaign is the Coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing vaccination program. But why does #fakenews so heavily target the Latino community?
Since the 2020 campaign, a large misinformation campaign has target Latinos.
Although fake news is nothing new, in the campaign leading up to the 2020 elections it morphed into something more sinister – a campaign to influence Latino voters with false information. The largely undetected movement helped depress turnout and spread disinformation about Democrat Joe Biden.
The effort showed how social media and other technology can be leveraged to spread misinformation so quickly that those trying to stop it cannot keep up. There were signs that it worked as Donald Trump swung large numbers of Latino votes in the 2020 presidential race in some areas that had been Democratic strongholds.
Videos and pictures were doctored. Quotes were taken out of context. Conspiracy theories were fanned, including that voting by mail was rigged, that the Black Lives Matter movement had ties to witchcraft and that Biden was beholden to a cabal of socialists.
That flow of misinformation has only intensified since Election Day, researchers and political analysts say, stoking Trump’s baseless claims that the election was stolen and false narratives around the mob that overran the Capitol. More recently, it has morphed into efforts to undermine vaccination efforts against the coronavirus.
The misinformation campaign could have major impacts on our politics.
Several misinformation researchers say there is an alarming amount of misinformation about voter fraud and Democratic leaders being shared in Latino social media communities. Biden is a popular target, with misinformation ranging from exaggerated claims that he embraces Fidel Castro-style socialism to more patently false and outlandish ones, for instance that the president-elect supports abortion minutes before a child’s birth or that he orchestrated a caravan of Cuban immigrants to infiltrate the US Southern border and disrupt the election process.
Democratic strategists looking ahead to the 2022 midterm elections are concerned about how this might sway Latino voters in the future. They acknowledge that conservatives in traditional media and the political establishment have pushed false narratives as well, but say that social media misinformation deserves special attention: It appears to be a growing problem, and it can be hard to track and understand.
Some believe that Latinos may be more likely to believe a message shared by friends, family members, or people from their cultural community in a WhatsApp or Telegram group rather than an arbitrary mainstream US news outlet; research has found that people believe news articles more when they’re shared by people they trust.
Fake news is also impacting our community’s response to the pandemic.
Vaccination programs work best when as many people as possible get vaccinated, but Latinos in the United States are getting inoculated at lower rates.
In Florida, for example, Latinos are 27% of the population but they’ve made up only about 17% of COVID-19 vaccinations so far, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And Latinos are relying on social media and word-of-mouth for information on vaccines — even when it’s wrong. There’s myths circulating around the vaccine, whether you can trust it and the possible the long-term effects.
And it’s not just obstacles to getting information in Spanish, but also in many of the native Mayan indigenous languages that farmworkers speak in South Florida.
For months we have heard stories from our neighbors and our friends of people losing loved ones to Covid-19. It seems that with each passing day the degrees of separation from ourselves and the virus gets smaller and smaller.
Although this is true for all demographics, it’s particularly true for the Latino community. New data shows that although Latinos make up about 19% of the national population, we account for nearly a third of all deaths. These numbers are staggering and experts are warning that entire communities are being decimated by the pandemic.
More than 44,500 Latinos have died of Covid-19 in the United States.
It’s no secret that the Coronavirus has ravaged our community but now we have concrete numbers that show just how bad the pandemic has been among Latinos. According to new data from the COVID Tracking Project, over 44,500 of the nearly 211,000 people in the U.S. killed by the Coronavirus to date are Latino.
While Latinos are under 19 percent of the U.S. population, we make up almost one-third of Coronavirus deaths nationwide, according to CDC data analyzed by Salud America, a health research institute in San Antonio. Among some age groups, like those 35 to 44, the distribution of Latino Covid deaths is almost 50 percent; among Latinos ages 45-54, it’s almost 44 percent.
Experts say several factors account for higher COVID-19 death and infection rates among Latinos versus whites, including poverty, health care disparities, the prevalence of serious underlying medical conditions, and greater exposure to the virus at work because of the kinds of working-class, essential jobs many Latinos have.
Many Latinos who have been infected or died of the Coronavirus are front-line or essential workers.
So many of our family members and neighbors work jobs that are now considered “essential.” From building cleaning services, to restaurant workers, grocery store employees, nurses, and farm workers, our community is on the front lines more than any other community in this fight against the pandemic.
In fact, 41.2 percent of all front-line workers are Black, Hispanic or Asian-American/Pacific Islander, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, an economic policy think tank. Hispanics are especially overrepresented in building cleaning services (40.2 percent of workers).
Latinos also have the highest uninsured rates of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S., according to the Department of Health and Human Services. All of these factors add up to a dangerous and deadly combination that has resulted in the outsized number of deaths among Latinos.
Some are saying that the virus is causing the ‘historic decimation’ of Latinos.
Speaking at a virtual Congressional Hispanic Caucus meeting last week, a global health expert warned that the Coronavirus is causing “the historic decimation” of the Latino community, ravaging generations of loved ones in Hispanic families.
To illustrate his point, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, read off descriptions of people who died on Aug. 13 in Houston alone.
“Hispanic male, Hispanic male, Hispanic male, black male, Hispanic male, black male, Hispanic male, Hispanic female, black female, black male, Hispanic, Hispanic, Hispanic, Hispanic, Hispanic, Hispanic” Hotez said, adding that many are people in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
“This virus is taking away a whole generation of mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, you know, who are young kids, teenage kids. And it occurred to me that what we’re seeing really is the historic decimation among the Hispanic community by the virus,” he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci – a popular figure in the fight against Coronavirus – has also raised the alarm.
The nation’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, gave a recent update on the impact on the Latino community. He pointed out that hospitalizations among Latinos 359 per 100,000 compared to 78 in whites. Deaths related to Covid-19 are 61 per 100,000 in the Latino population compared to 40 in whites, and Latinos represent 45 percent of deaths of people younger than 21, Fauci said.
Fauci said the country can begin to address this “extraordinary problem” now by making sure the community gets adequate testing and immediate access to care. But he said this is not a one-shot resolution.
“This must now reset and re-shine a light on this disparity related to social determinants of health that are experienced by the Latinx community — the fact that they have a higher incidence of co-morbidities, which put you at risk,” Fauci said.
Fauci also urged the Latino congressional members on the call to get their Latino constituents to consider enrolling in vaccination trials so they can be proven to be safe in everyone, including African Americans and Latinos.
“We need to get a diverse representation of the population in the clinical trials,” he said.