Over 20 Latino leaders from progressive groups in Florida have signed a letter calling on Spanish-language and Latino-focused media outlets in Miami to stop spreading misinformation "that emboldens conspiracy theories."
"Spanish-language media should be a lifeline for native speakers who need to understand the issues impacting them. Yet throughout the 2020 cycle, many Spanish language outlets enabled the spread of dangerous misinformation," said the statement, which was released Wednesday. "Even now, many are blaming antifa and Black Lives Matter activists for the violence in Washington, D.C., with zero factual evidence," they said, referring to the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
The day of the riot, a host on AM station Actualidad falsely claimed that "thousands of dead people voted, thousands of incarcerated people voted, thousands of noncitizens voted." The host, Agustin Acosta, went to say, "I think that in Nevada or Arizona, 42,000 people voted more than once."
Alfonso Aguilar, a Republican and president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, was a guest on the show and pushed back on Acosta's claims, saying it was "wishful thinking" but Acosta still claimed there was massive fraud.
Another AM radio host the day after the riot said the loose collective of activists known as antifa had sent "busloads" of people to Washington. "They are the ones who started the assault, and Trump supporters just followed them," said the host, Lucy Pereda, according to The Miami Herald.
Since President-elect Joe Biden's victory, some radio stations have been questioning the validity of the election. On the AM radio station La Poderosa, host Lourdes de Kendall said in Spanish: "There will always be doubts about what happened in this election, what happened after midnight in states where Trump had the majority and where 90 percent of the votes had been counted stopped counting. And after that, everything changed."
Misinformation spread in Spanish among Latinos is not new. Months before the election, conspiracy theories intensified among Latinos, primarily on social media and in WhatsApp groups. But they were also finding their way to popular radio stations and television programs. Some of the conspiracies revolved around QAnon, whose followers believe that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles that includes politicians, journalists and celebrities controls the "deep state" government.
After Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook, some of his Latino supporters began flocking to closed and encrypted platforms like Signal and Telegram, worrying experts who track disinformation. Many have also left WhatsApp after it sent a privacy update to users. Telegram, a chat app, reported it has passed 500 million monthly users. Around 25 million joined in a 72-hour period that included last weekend.
“The danger with these groups, especially for Spanish-speaking communities, is it allows false and misleading content to spread quickly and without access to credible sourcing," said Flavia Colangelo, a researcher at GQR, a research firm that advises campaigns on disinformation. "It becomes a louder echo chamber because when you opt into these chat groups, you are constantly receiving messages, audios, videos and links from other users — sometimes thousands per day."
Colangelo said many of the bad actors spreading misinformation in Spanish on Facebook and YouTube are now asking followers to join their Telegram channels over concerns of censorship. A Spanish-language QAnon group on Telegram has recently grown to over 34,000 followers. Some of the information circulating on Telegram echoes national narratives baselessly blaming the Capitol riots on antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters. This includes sharing recent audio recordings of misleading A.M. radio broadcasts circulating in South Florida that push these false and dangerous narratives.
Those who signed the letter released Wednesday are calling for more fact-checking of the shows. They are also calling for the media to hold pundits accountable for promoting hate speech, as well as to invite more diverse voices on their shows, including Afro-Latinos, and to "educate themselves on the diversity of this country." Many of the shows focus on Black Lives Matter as a violent, anti-Trump movement.
One of the letter's signers, Ana Sofia Peláez, co-founder of the Miami Freedom Project, an organization dedicated to creating a space for progressive voices in Miami, expressed alarm.
If anyone knows the cost of disrupting the Electoral College and the consequences of a riot at the Capitol, it is Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and others who have come from Latin American countries that have had authoritarian regimes.
Peláez said that "it's hard to see where you can even begin that dialogue" when "people who have had that experience" defend falsehoods or conspiracy theories.
"When you see those talking points reiterated on such a steady stream in Spanish-language media, it's really a cause for concern," Peláez said.
Others who signed the letter represent organizations like Florida Rising, Florida Immigrant Coalition, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and Alianza for Progress.