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Latinos more likely to get, consume and share online misinformation, fake news

Websites with higher Latino audiences had more content flagged as biased or espousing conspiracies, which is then spread by popular apps like WhatsApp, a Nielsen report found.

Latino audiences are more likely to receive, consume and share fake news and misinformation online compared to the general population, a new Nielsen report on U.S. Latinos shows.

The data and information firm looked at a subset of the top 100 U.S. news sites across the political spectrum, including some Spanish-language sites, in which at least 20 percent of their reach came from Latino audiences over the past year. Over that time period, 28 percent of the content presented to Latinos contained content flagged as mixed, biased, extremely biased, conspiracy or pseudoscience.

"That's a big number," Stacie de Armas, senior vice president of diverse insights at Nielsen, told NBC News on Tuesday.

"It means that websites that have a higher composition of Latinos in their consumption audience had more presentation of content that fell within" the aforementioned categories, she said. "So essentially, if you're white, your chances are lower of seeing that kind of content than if you're Hispanic."

Young Hispanics ages 18-34 are more than twice as likely than the general population to use WhatsApp and Telegram, according to Nielsen. “Misinformation poses a threat to Hispanics, who are particularly vulnerable due to a greater reliance on social media and messaging platforms,” the report published Friday reads.

When information is shared on these networks,” de Armas said, “it can be amplified in a way that doesn’t get the opportunity to get a fact-check because they’re in encrypted, private messaging apps versus in traditional social media.”

And our community has suffered as a result. We see that in vaccine hesitancy and misinformation,” she said.

Nielsen’s report found that Latinos are avid users of encrypted social messaging platforms, as well as others such as Instagram and Discord “because of the trust and intimacy they offer.”

WhatsApp is used around the world by people to communicate for free, and is popular among U.S. Latinos who use it to keep in touch with their relatives in Latin America.

“We’ve underestimated the importance of these encrypted messaging tools for connecting,” de Armas said. But this digital consumption behavior puts Latino communities in a particularly vulnerable spot when it comes to access to truthful information.

Latinos spend more time with almost all social media apps and messaging services, including Twitter, a platform 30 percent of Latinos ages 18-34 use, according to Nielsen.

Nielsen worked with Adverif.ai, a company from the data firm's tech incubator in Israel, to comb through the content to flag different kinds of fake news content.

While digital and social media platforms have made information more accessible to consumers, they have also amplified the viral nature of misleading headlines and unscrutinized sources. The phenomenon has created space for misinformation and fake news to widely spread online, particularly in social media and group chat platforms commonly used in Latino and other diaspora communities. 

The more this kind of content is presented to Latino audiences, the more likely it is that it will be consumed and shared online, as well as in encrypted platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram, which are among the digital platforms Latinos spend the most amount of time on, de Armas said.

This underscores the importance of rigorous fact-checking algorithms, as well as the value of trusted influencers to curb misinformation.

Nielsen and Adverif.ai are working on a digital tool they've built to fight misinformation on social media. The @factcheck_this tool automatically retrieves fact-checks from more than 100 organizations around the world that are part of the International Fact-Checking Network.

The tool is being tested on Twitter during a soft rollout in France and the United States with content in French, Spanish and English, de Armas said.

"That's really exciting because we have recognized that it's our collective responsibility to empower consumers with the ability to to not just fact-check content, but to advance their media literacy," she said.

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