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Progressive Group Combats Disinformation Campaigns Aimed At Latino Voters

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

As Election Day nears, voters are being inundated with disinformation and propaganda. Social media platforms are now cracking down on it in English with mixed success, yet Spanish language online media isn't getting the same scrutiny, even though much of the disinformation is aimed at suppressing the Latino vote, now the country's largest minority voting bloc. How Latinos cast their ballots will help determine the outcomes in key states like Florida, Arizona, Texas and Nevada. Joining us now from D.C. to talk about the issue is Ashley Bryant of Win Black / Pa'lante. It's a progressive group focused on combating disinformation aimed at people of color. Thanks so much for being with us.

ASHLEY BRYANT: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So give us an example of what kind of disinformation Latino voters are seeing.

BRYANT: Sure. For example, we know that many Spanish-speaking Americans and also immigrants largely use WhatsApp as their main point of communication, right? And what we're seeing is really this disinformation campaign around Catholicism really driving home this narrative of, you can't be a Democrat and be a good Catholic. And then also, you know, we just saw the Biden campaign simply meeting with folks of the Haitian community in the Miami, Fla., area, and that was flipped on Latinx communities especially on WhatsApp saying that he's meeting with foreign nationals as some part of a coup and, you know, many different narratives coming out of that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You cited specifically what happened when the Goya issue broke. The head of Goya endorsed President Trump. That created a backlash among left-leaning and progressive Latinos. And you tracked a bot.

BRYANT: Yeah. I mean, you know, we're seeing a ton of automation, right? And whether these are foreign actors or even domestic actors, what we do know are these are highly coordinated campaigns. I mean, on the Goya example specifically, I mean, we saw a potential bot where we tracked a commenter that was doing, you know, over 6,700 comments on Facebook in a matter of hours, right? And so we know that that's not humanly possible. And so, you know, this is certainly being spread through a coordinated, pretty technical effort of having these automated trolls, if you will, that are simply there to incite and misinform potential voters. There are Facebook profiles that are popping up pretending to be Black or Latinx activists pretending that they were progressive but now are joining the right-wing narrative. But ultimately, the goal is to kind of drive home this narrative that Black and Latinx voters aren't being appreciated and so therefore shouldn't be civic participators.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, speaking from personal experience, I see a lot of stuff passed around, and it's passed around by family members, so it seems like it comes from a trusted source. It happens in WhatsApp groups, as you mentioned. You work on this issue. How do you tackle it?

BRYANT: So, you know, most folks instinctively think, OK, well, we need to respond. OK, I know this is fake - and their natural instinct is to repost and say, well, this is fake. This isn't true. But what we actually find to be the most effective is getting the truth out there, building this echo chamber of content and messages that are going to educate Black and Latinx folks, that are going to actually bring the issues to the forefront in a trusted and validated way using the authenticity of grassroots groups and organizers that are actually doing this work on the ground.

And so for us, it's really flooding the zone with the right messages that are going to move people. And it's that repetition, right? Like, disinformation and voter suppression is a coordinated effort, and we have to meet that. We have to counter that with the same coordination and directing them to - in ways where they can educate themselves on not just the top presidential ticket but races, you know, up and down the ballot.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You call yourselves a progressive group. People on the right might hear this and say your aim is to discredit legitimate political speech on the right. How do you distinguish between disinformation and totally fair partisan speech?

BRYANT: This isn't a partisan issue. What we're actually fighting is voter suppression. The right to vote shouldn't be a partisan issue. We should have people on both sides that want every single eligible voter to be able to show up and participate in this democracy. Anyone that is against that is against our country, is against the very values and the thread of our country. And so my response to that is it's quite insane to think that progressive issues are bad because we want folks to vote, right? That's more - you know, I beg to say put a mirror in front of any of those people that think it's a problem that we want everyone to be able to be civically engaged in this process.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Ashley Bryant, a principal at AB Partners and a co-leader of Win Black / Pa'lante. Thank you very much.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.