Right-wing disinformation campaigns are targeting Latinos in Spanish Facebook and WhatsApp groups



Mark Zuckerberg wearing a suit and tie: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images


© The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

  • Largely right-wing campaigns are spreading misinformation regarding democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris online, per a report in MIT Technology Review.
  • Spanish-language Facebook and WhatsApp group users have reported seeing messages like “Biden = Socialism” and that Kamala Harris supports abortions “minutes before birth,” both of which are untrue. 
  • Joe Biden’s success among Latino voters in swing states greatly impacts his chance of winning the election.
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Latinos — a voting bloc that could decide the 2020 election — are getting hit with false information on Spanish-language Facebook and WhatsApp groups.

Largely right-wing disinformation campaigns, or ads that spread false or exaggerated information, are targeting Hispanic-Americans online, the MIT Technology Review Reported. Users reported seeing repetitive messaging of Kamala Harris supporting abortion “up to minutes before birth,” which she has never said according to fact-check site Snopes.

One Facebook group “Cubanos por Donald Trump” posted a photo of democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Miami’s Little Haiti Cultural Center claiming he “kneels before foreign leaders,” despite not in Haiti or meeting a Haitian leader in the picture, MIT reported.

The publication also reported that two separate Republican ads have spread messages like “Real Catholics can’t be Democrats” and “Biden = Socialism” online. 

Gaining Latino voters is crucial for Joe Biden, particularly in three battleground states, Florida, Arizona, and Texas, where they comprise 20%, 24%, and 30% of the voting population, respectively. Last month, polls showed Biden struggling to appeal to Latino voters in Florida, and the Associated Press reported his team acknowledged he may not get the same share of the vote as Hillary Clinton did in 2016. 

At the same

Campaigns sidestep Cambridge Analytica crackdown with new methods

“Your early vote has not been recorded,” one text message said, with a link for more information.

Other messages tell voters they are not registered, or offer unverified information about a political opponent.

Fraudulent messages like these are drawing attention as political campaigns ramp up data collection and voter targeting using their own technology to circumvent restrictions imposed by social media platforms following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Facebook barred apps which scraped data on users and their contacts after revelations about the now-defunct British consulting group. But in response, President Donald Trump’s campaign and some activist groups are using their own methods.

“What we are seeing is almost more potent than in 2016,” said Samuel Woolley, a University of Texas professor who leads propaganda research at the school’s Center for Media Engagement

Woolley’s team, which examined messages such as the above-referenced ones, found that the Trump mobile app, and to a lesser extent those of Democrat Joe Biden and other political activist groups, scoop up data to create profiles to craft personalized, targeted messages by SMS, email or social media.

Some apps collect data not only on the user, but his or her contacts, and track location and other activities such as shopping or church attendance.

Campaigns can combine that with third-party information from data brokers or public records to finetune messages to specific individuals or groups.

“In 2016 there was more reliance on Facebook, and other social platforms, but now the campaigns have taken the collection of data into their own hands,” said Woolley, who called the Trump app a “surveillance tool.”

– No consent needed –

Dozens of unsolicited texts, many with pro-Trump messages, surprised Thomas, a 32-year-old software program manager in Boston. 

One read: “Looting. Rioting. Burning Cities. These are the realities of a Biden America.”

“My