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Reps. Mucarsel-Powell, Castro call for FBI investigation of disinformation aimed at Latinos

"Even more concerning is the fact that disinformation originating on social media is now shaping and pervading more traditional media outlets in South Florida," they said in a letter.
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., speaks with Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, on Capitol Hill
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., and Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, on Capitol Hill on Nov. 13, 2019.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

Democrats in Congress are asking the FBI for an immediate investigation into disinformation targeting Latinos before the 2020 election after a report by NBC News and other media outlets.

The use of Spanish-language YouTube programs, WhatsApp clips and pro-President Donald Trump Facebook groups that are spreading false information or conspiracy theories has raised alarms that the disinformation is having a powerful impact on Latino voters in Florida, NBC News reported this week. Politico was first to report on the issue.

Polls are showing a tight race in Florida and gains by Trump with the Cuban American community, although Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden leads with Latinos overall in the state and country.

The request for an investigation was made in a letter from Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida, who is locked in a tight race for re-election, and Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“As we rapidly approach Election Day, Latino circles in South Florida have witnessed a surge in posts containing false or misleading information on social media. These posts are often politically charged and contain far-right conspiracy theories relating to ‘QAnon’ or other fringe ideologies designed to manipulate Latino voters,” the members stated in their letter.

Among examples cited by the congressional members were the racist and anti-Semitic remarks disseminated on a paid program aired in August by Caracol Radio, an AM radio station. It claimed that if Biden won the election, the U.S. would fall into a dictatorship led by Jews and Blacks. Caracol later apologized for the content and banned the commentator.

They also noted the inclusion of a Spanish language insert in El Nuevo Herald, the sister publication of the Miami Herald, with a column that claimed American Jews support “thieves and arsonists” and compared Black Lives Matter protesters to Nazis. The Miami Herald apologized and said they had ended their relationship with LIBRE.

While disinformation on social media is problematic, "even more concerning is the fact that disinformation originating on social media is now shaping and pervading more traditional media outlets in South Florida," the congressional members said.

The congressional members also asked that the investigation consider any ties of the disseminated disinformation with any foreign actors. They set Oct. 7 as a deadline for a response and date when FBI could brief Congress on the disinformation.

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