The politically-charged messages often contain far-right conspiracy theories relating to “QAnon” or similar fringe groups, the lawmakers say.
The amount of hate speech and disinformation on both social media and traditional outlets moved two Latino lawmakers to demand an investigation from the Director of the FBI.
The letter sent by Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Florida) and Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) comes one day after the FBI issued a warning on the high likelihood that foreign actors and cybercriminals may try to spread misinformation about the 2020 election results.
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While Mucarsel-Powell and Castro acknowledged that misinformation online is not a new phenomenon, there is something new at play in this electoral year: the conspiracy theories shared on social media are now spreading over to traditional media outlets like newspapers and radio in South Florida. They seem specifically tailored to manipulate Latino voters in South Florida.
“It is common knowledge that the Russian government interfered in our 2016 elections through hacking and social media influence campaigns,” the missive states. “Florida, in particular, was a target of Russian interference in 2016 where the election systems of two state counties were breached.”
“As the FBI works to secure our elections, we urge you to keep the Latino community in mind and consider efforts of foreign actors to spread disinformation and sow doubt in our election systems among Latinos, especially in South Florida,” the letter concluded, noting that the growing Latino population represents nearly 20% of the elegible voters in the Sunshine State.
The Evidence Presented by the Lawmakers
Mucarsel-Powell and Castro presented the following evidence of disinformation targeting Florida voters, requesting action by the FBI by October 7:
- On Aug. 22: South Florida station Radio Caracol played 16 minutes of programming containing an anti-Black and anti-Semitic rant that falsely claimed a victory by candidate Joe Biden would mean that the US would fall into a dictatorship led by “Jews and Blacks.”
- The program further claimed that candidate Biden is leading a political revolution “directed by racial minorities, atheists and anti-Christians.”
- In another instance, El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language sister publication of the Miami Herald, included an insert on Sept. 11 that falsely claimed American Jews support “thieves and arsonists” and equated Black Lives Matter protesters with Nazis.
“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 reps. stated. According to Rep. Mucarsel-Powell, people in South Florida have reported seeing misleading posts on Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter.
On Aug. 7, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) issued an updated statement warning that foreign powers continue their efforts to try to interfere in US elections. The statement details efforts from Russia, China and Iran.
“We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,’ the report stated, listing actions such as smear campaigns against Joe Biden by Kremlin-linked actors.
FBI Recommendations to Combat Disinformation on Election Results
The September 22 Public Service Announcement by the FBI on disinformation included the following recommendations to verify suspicious reports on election results:
- Seek out information from trustworthy sources, such as state and local election officials; verify who produced the content; and consider their intent.
- Verify through multiple reliable sources any reports about problems in voting or election results, and consider searching for other reliable sources before sharing such information via social media or other avenues.
- For information about final election results, rely on state and local government elected officials.
- Report potential election crimes—such as disinformation about the manner, time, or place of voting—to the FBI.
- If appropriate, make use of in-platform tools offered by social media companies for reporting suspicious posts that appear to be spreading false or inconsistent information about election-related problems or results.