Brown communities are among those who have been disproportionately targeted with misinformation and disinformation, especially in regard to political and health information. In response, Voto Latino, the largest Latinx voter registration organization in the nation, and Media Matters for America, a nonprofit media watchdog, have partnered to launch the Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab, which will work to better understand and combat misinformation at all stages and channels.
The Lab is overseen by Voto Latino co-founding president and CEO María Teresa Kumar and Media Matters for America president and CEO Angelo Carusone. Additionally, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, who took part in initial discussions, will also help manage it.
“We were at the front lines, seeing how misinformation and disinformation were working,” Kumar told E&P. “It was almost like a rabbit hole. We saw it first in 2016, but then we knew that it was going to be an issue in 2020, and it was worse than our wildest dreams.
For Media Matters, one thing that stood out was that the false information they saw proliferating was “its own ecosystem that had new and very distinct smears,” Carusone said. The information was not being rehashed from other media channels.
Kumar was also struck by how the false information was affecting her family. For example, Kumar’s mother, who works is in the health industry and has always been vaccinated, stated she was not going to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Kumar ultimately found out her mother had been viewing videos mostly through WhatsApp and email claiming the vaccine was unsafe because it utilized technology that has never been used on humans.
The Lab will work in several steps, according to Kumar and Carusone. The first of which lies with Media Matters. It includes expanding its monitoring of Spanish-language media and online communities. Carusone said a dedicated team of six researchers are already monitoring the operation (Media Matters has also started the hiring process to add staff to the team.) They will produce updates to the organization’s research as well as misinformation alerts, which will start to give them a sense of not just the narratives that are percolating but indicators for what kinds of misinformation and disinformation have a high likelihood of spreading.
The next step will be to target platforms and channels where larger threats reside. This work will produce research that will catalyze strategic communications actions for Voto Latino. The organization will also invest in infrastructure to identify and communicate with at-risk Latino voters.
The Lab, which is a $22 million effort funded by both organizations, will run for at least the next two years, and there are plans to publish the progress of the Lab for the public to access.
“Our hope is that we can use the next few years to learn, so that in 2024, when the elections are up again, we are as fully ready to deploy,” Kumar said.