Lies broadcast on Spanish radio mislead voters ahead of midterm

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Spanish-speaking media misinformation about voter fraud, the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to harm Latino communities in this fall’s midterm elections.

The Federal Communications Commission is tasked with regulating broadcasters but has done little to address the problem, which Democrats say hurt them in 2020 and has gotten worse since then. The agency has always avoided moderating content, citing the potential for chilling free speech.

“If we don’t do anything about it, it will have a negative impact on the 2022 election,” the former representative said. Debbie Murcasel-Powell (D-Fla.). She cites misinformation, including allegations linking her to communism, as a major reason for her 2020 loss to Republican Rep. Carlos Gimenezthen mayor of Miami-Dade County.

Photo: Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Voters line up to vote at the Town ‘N Country Regional Public Library on November 3, 2020 in Tampa, Florida.

The problem includes both misinformation, which covers any falsehood presented as true, and misinformation, which is deliberately misleading. It threatens to both change how people think of candidates and how likely they are to vote. Such practices are not limited to Spanish-language media, but can be particularly virulent there, according to researchers and civil rights groups.

Now, Latino rights groups are calling on the FCC to do more and on Congress to pay attention before it’s too late.

“The FCC needs to be more proactive and take ownership of this,” said Kenneth Romero, president of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a Hispanic civil rights coalition. “They have to step in and realize that if they have jurisdiction, they have a responsibility to hold people accountable.”

Ronnie Lucero, speaker of the Hispanic Republican National Assembly, said misinformation harms all Latinos, regardless of party. RNHA is a grassroots organization for Latino conservatives that works to get Republicans elected.

“We want our people to be informed of the issues so that when it comes time to vote, they make the right decision,” Lucero said.

Florida Latinos

South Florida has become a hotspot for disinformation on Spanish radio, where broadcasters claimed the 2020 election was stolen by Democrats and that vaccines were a ploy to enrich Democrats and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

This year, misinformation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has taken hold, with continued posts blaming Biden for rising gas prices and favoring white refugees over refugees of color, Evelyn Pérez said. -Verdía, founder of We Are Más, a consulting firm focused on countering misinformation. in the Spanish-speaking media.

Latinos make up nearly 30% of Florida’s population, according to the Census Bureau. Former Republican President Donald Trump won Florida, a key battleground state, in 2016 and 2020, after voting for Democratic President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Nationally, Latinos have traditionally been more likely to vote for Democrats, but Republicans have been making inroads, particularly in Florida, according to progressive data firm Catalist. They could play a key role in determining control of the House midway through 2022, with the two parties locked in a tight race.

Spanish speakers may be more “vulnerable” to misinformation because they don’t have access to the breadth of resources available in English, said Rick Hasen, a law and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine.

Spanish talk radio shows with strong followings are isolated from national media that collect and verify misinformation about English talk radio shows. In the Spanish-language media ecosystem, where misinformation festers under the radar, there’s increased potential for Latino participation to be suppressed, said Liz Lebron, head of research at nonprofit Voto Latino. profit center focused on Hispanic voter registration.

Lebron has seen an increase in misinformation targeting Latinos since the 2020 presidential election. She described a slow erosion of trust in government institutions and elected officials that makes it “much easier in the fall of 2022 or fall of 2024 to start saying, ‘Why would you vote for these people?’ or, ‘Your vote will not count.’

Read more: Democrats push immigration to boost Hispanic vote in 2022

Complaint system

The FCC system requires the public to complain about broadcasters spreading false information. Consumers must show that the information causes “substantial public harm”, or harm that begins immediately, causes direct damage to the property or health of the general public, or distracts law enforcement authorities and job security.

This policy “is not enough”, said Sindy Benavides, CEO of the civil rights group League of United Latin American Citizens. “Imagine: you hear a lie on the radio and who even knows that this mechanism exists?”

A standard reflected in the First Amendment states that the government may regulate speech only when necessary to accomplish a vital interest and when the speech directly causes harm.

Spreading false information alone will not lead to enforcement action because of this high standard. Consumers should present evidence such as written instructions from a radio station manager to broadcast a false statement, for example, in accordance with FCC policy.

The FCC’s jurisdiction does not extend to social media, another hot spot for disinformation and misinformation in Spanish.

To raise awareness

Benavides says the FCC could help by publicizing the complaint system through marketing and convening a roundtable with organizations on the ground.

“So many people in America aren’t yet aware that misinformation is a problem in English, but so much more so in Spanish,” she said.

UnidosUS spokeswoman Lisa Navarrete suggested the agency could create a research arm to document misinformation and use its bullying chair to raise awareness. UnidosUS is the largest Latin American civil rights organization.

The FCC declined to comment on the advocacy groups’ proposals.

Murcasell-Powell, the former House member, said Congress should hold hearings “to inform the public about the threat of misinformation to our democracy.” She said she continues to work with the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal elections, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to combat the “massive and coordinated” disinformation effort in the United States.

representing Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), the caucus chair, said the group continues to call for better oversight to combat misinformation, especially on social media.

“Ensuring that all Americans have access to accurate and timely information, especially regarding elections, is crucial to the survival of our democracy,” Ruiz said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Curi at mcuri@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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