Latinos who use social media in Spanish receive more misinformation

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How do Latinos — the largest ethnic minority group in the United States — use social media to get their political and public health information? With Twitter now owned by the world’s richest man and voting set to close halfway through 2022, the answers to this question have consequences. The information Latinos encounter online would likely be very different from that encountered by white people, as many Latinos consume information in Spanish: 30% of American Latinos consider themselves bilingual and 40% communicate primarily in Spanish. Some social media platforms, including Meta, admit that their content moderation is worse in Spanish. In fact, WhatsApp, which is hugely popular among Latinos, doesn’t monitor content at all, relying on users to install fact-check monitors on their accounts.

Our research found that, indeed, Latinos use social media differently than white Americans. Additionally, Latinos who rely on social media in Spanish are more likely to believe misinformation about election issues and are more likely to rely on social media for information about the coronavirus.

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Latinos use social media differently than white people

To understand how and where Latinos get information online, we surveyed 2,636 people across America who identify as Latino/Hispanic/Latinx. Respondents were recruited with online advertisements in Spanish and English to complete an online survey. Our sample included roughly equal numbers of English-, bilingual-, and Spanish-speaking respondents. We also sampled about 1,000 non-Latin people as a comparison group. We weighted respondents by education, gender, age, and region to match national proportions of Latino and all people based on ACS census counts.

We asked our respondents which social media platforms they had accounts on. And we asked detailed questions about their political and coronavirus news sources.

As you can see in the figure below, Latinos were slightly less likely to use Facebook than white people (79% vs. 96%) and were also slightly less likely to use YouTube (73% vs. 75%).

But Latinos were much more likely than whites to use WhatsApp (53% vs. 14%), TikTok (42% vs. 24%) and Telegram (16% vs. 5%). This was true even among US-born Latinos, 33% of whom said they use WhatsApp. An even higher proportion of Spanish-speaking Latinos use WhatsApp: 70%.

Latinos were also more likely to use these platforms for political news and discussion.

We found that Latinos were more likely to follow politicians on social media than white people. Among Latinos on Telegram, for example, 39% said they had followed at least one politician on the platform, while just 32% of whites said the same.

Even more striking was the way Latinos were using the platforms to talk about politics. While only 15% of white people said they used WhatsApp to talk about politics once a day or more, 31% of Latino users said they did.

Will misinformation keep Latinos from voting midterm?

Latinos are more likely to use social media to find information about covid-19

We also asked respondents where they got information about covid-19. This information could be essential to decisions made by individuals regarding their own behavior; incorrect information could literally put lives at risk.

We found that 53% of Latinos said they rely “a lot” or “a lot” on social media for information about covid-19. For whites, the figure was only 34%.

Of course, social networks can peddle false information about covid-19. This is especially true on social media in Spanish, as Teo Armus discovered. This is a problem, as we found that 56% of Latinos and Spanish-dominant bilinguals said they got their information about covid from social media. After controlling for education, income and age of respondents, Hispanics were significantly more likely to say they relied on social media for information about covid-19 than whites.

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Latinos who rely on social media in Spanish are more likely to believe in voter fraud

As Jeronimo Cortina and Brandon Rottinghaus reported in February here at The Monkey Cage, Latinos who rely primarily on Spanish-language media are more likely to believe baseless accusations than those who rely on sources of information in English. We delved into this question, specifically testing whether social media use was linked to the belief that the 2020 election was fraudulent. To measure this, we asked who respondents thought more people actually voted for in the 2020 presidential election: Joe Biden or Donald Trump. And we asked Latino respondents whether the information they consumed on social media was in English, Spanish, or both.

We found that 40% of Hispanic respondents who relied on Spanish-language social media for their news believed that Trump received more votes than Biden, a belief shared by only 31% of Hispanic respondents who relied on media social in English. Even controlling for demographics such as age, education, and income and whether the respondent generally used English or Spanish, using social media in Spanish was associated with a greater likelihood of thinking Trump had won the elections.

As others have reported, Spanish language social media platforms are not as closely monitored for misinformation and misinformation as English language platforms. Will this shape the votes of Latinos in this election? Our research suggests it’s likely.

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Marisa A. Abrajano is a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego and an affiliate professor at the Center for Social Media at New York University.

Marianna Garcia is a doctoral student in political science at the University of California, San Diego and a graduate research associate at the Center for Social Media at New York University.

Aaron Pope is a project manager at the Center for Social Media at New York University.

Robert Vidigal is a data scientist at the Center for Social Media at New York University.

Joshua A. Tucker is a professor of politics and co-director of the Center for Social Media at New York University.

Jonathan Nagler is a professor of politics and co-director of the Center for Social Media at New York University.

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