NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, August 19th, 2022

Netroots Nation 2022 — Day Two — Featured Panel: Disinformation and the Vote

This Fri­day morn­ing at Net­roots Nation, the con­ver­sa­tion at the Dis­in­for­ma­tion in the Vote pan­el focused on how such efforts dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly tar­get non-Eng­lish-speak­ing communities.

Pan­elists includ­ed Voto­Lati­no’s Research Man­ag­er Liz Lebron, The New Geor­gia Pro­jec­t’s Research Direc­tor Ranan­da Robin­son, APIA Vote Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Asso­ciate Kyle Van Fleet, and the Free Press’ Cam­paign Man­ag­er Rose Lang-Maso.

Dis­in­for­ma­tion in the vote direct­ly impacts com­mu­ni­ties of col­or by using racial­ized lan­guage. Liz Lebron says that while vot­er fraud dis­in­for­ma­tion hurts the entire elec­toral process, nar­ra­tives blam­ing “ille­gal vot­ers” specif­i­cal­ly impacts the Lat­inx community.

This por­trays the two major types of ongo­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion; nar­ra­tives tar­get­ing dis­en­fran­chised com­mu­ni­ties from “out­side” sources, and nar­ra­tives designed to be spread with­in these com­mu­ni­ties. One exam­ple of the lat­ter is Voto Latino’s dis­cov­ery of tar­get­ed mes­sag­ing against cer­tain polit­i­cal can­di­dates with­in the large pop­u­la­tions of Latinix vot­ers in Flori­da, repeat­ed­ly declar­ing them social­ists or communists.

Rana­da Robin­son at The New Geor­gia Project also found that large amounts of this dis­in­for­ma­tion focus­es on con­vinc­ing vot­ers their vote does not mat­ter — not just about con­vinc­ing peo­ple to change their vote, but about con­vinc­ing peo­ple not to vote at all: “It not only steers peo­ple the wrong way, but it also con­vinces peo­ple to stay at home.”

Robin­son high­light­ed the impor­tance of being sen­si­tive when han­dling vot­ers who fall vic­tim to these lies, rather than mak­ing peo­ple feel stu­pid. Dis­in­for­ma­tion is doing what it is designed to do, con­vinc­ing and upset­ting unsus­pect­ing vic­tims, and no one wants to feel that they have been deceived and ashamed.

This kind of dis­in­for­ma­tion is also often post­ed and spread in lan­guages besides Eng­lish. Rose Lang-Maso not­ed that Eng­lish con­tent is reg­u­lat­ed much more than Span­ish con­tent. At Free Press, Lang-Maso and her team worked to take down one extreme­ly vio­lent and offen­sive piece of Eng­lish dis­in­for­ma­tion from Face­book in less than a week. When that same con­tent was dis­cov­ered in Span­ish, Face­book took eleven months to remove the mate­r­i­al. This is just one exam­ple of the dis­pro­por­tion­ate effects dis­in­for­ma­tion is mak­ing in non-Eng­lish speak­ing com­mu­ni­ties as well as the poten­tial glob­al impact these posts have to pow­er to make.

Kyle Van-Fleet empha­sized the real life vio­lence expe­ri­enced by the Asian com­mu­ni­ty as a result of dis­in­for­ma­tion. Com­bat­ing these dead­ly nar­ra­tives can be incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult for APIA due to the broad audi­ence the Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty includes. Effec­tive work in this area means under­stand­ing many dif­fer­ent cul­tures and lan­guages, includ­ing engage­ment in dif­fer­ent plat­forms such as WeChat, that are fre­quent­ly used by the APIA com­mu­ni­ty. Van-Fleet said there is a need for more man­pow­er, infra­struc­ture, and fund­ing in this area to pro­tect the APIA com­mu­ni­ty from dis­in­for­ma­tion-fueled violence.

Final­ly, each pan­elist described the dif­fi­cul­ty their orga­ni­za­tions face as tar­gets of dis­in­for­ma­tion them­selves. In 2020, The New Geor­gia Project was the tar­get of vot­er fraud dis­in­for­ma­tion at a press con­fer­ence for the state of Geor­gia’s Gov­er­nor and Sec­re­tary of State. Instances such as this force orga­ni­za­tions to redi­rect their efforts toward repair­ing their rep­u­ta­tion in the com­mu­ni­ty. Robin­son encour­aged vic­tims of dis­in­for­ma­tion to use the media atten­tion to deny the claims and quick­ly piv­ot to explain­ing your cause and the com­mu­ni­ty being served.

In con­clu­sion, Lebron argues that the most impor­tant role such orga­ni­za­tions as Voto­Lati­no can play is to estab­lish them­selves as cred­i­ble voic­es in their com­mu­ni­ties of focus and sup­port­ing year-round civic engage­ment in the face of dis­in­for­ma­tion designed to silence voters.

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