latino-vaccine-disinformation Healthcare workers receive COVID-19 vaccinations at Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Community Hospital on Jan. 6, 2021, in the Willowbrook neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP

While the presidential election may be over, Latinos are now exposed to lies about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Latinos were recently targeted with disinformation during the 2020 presidential election, and now it’s happening again with COVID-19 vaccine lies. To combat the spread of these false narratives, two Latino advocacy groups have launched a $22 million campaign to stop the lies dead in their tracks. 

Voto Latino, the largest Latino voter registration organization in the US, and Media Matters for America, the nation’s premier media watchdog organization, announced the launch of the Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab. This collaborative effort will help understand better and strategically combat misinformation at all stages and on all mediums, seeking primarily to influence the Latino community. 

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Disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine is hitting the Latino community in many of the same ways it was targeted during the 2020 presidential election: social media. Fear-mongering tactics and disinformation about the coronavirus are spreading throughout mainstream social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and other online communities. 

“As Hispanics, we like to gossip, pass on messages from one person to the next,” Blanca Espronceda, who works with a program called Salud y Bien­estar, or Health and Wellness, told The Washington Post in a report about vaccine disinformation. “But if we listen to all the negative things people say, we will have a problem on our hands.”

Out of almost 50 million vaccinated people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than 9% of Latinos have gotten the COVID vaccine.  

The lag in vaccine distribution among the Latino population is due to a myriad of factors including not enough vaccines, the fact that not everyone can be vaccinated right now, and that some Latinos do not know how or have the accessibility to register online for an appointment, some are even hesitant because of misinformation. 

“For decades, disinformation has been a weapon that corrupt governments in failing states use against their own people,” said Voto Latino’s Maria Teresa Kumar in a statement. “But now that same weapon is aimed at the most vulnerable in the United States, exploiting some officials’ moral weakness and social media’s deliberate lawlessness to sow greater distrust of our critical institutions than ever before. The spread of lies around the COVID vaccine is proof positive that disinformation has become a life and death issue if not curbed and addressed.”

So how exactly will these groups be able to counter the vaccine disinformation? The Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab will combine media intelligence and disinformation expertise, along with digital-first savviness to inoculate impacted audiences across all mediums against targeted misinformation.

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The lab will also expand its monitoring of Spanish-language media and online communities. A team will produce research that will catalyze strategic communication actions for Voto Latino, an organization that will heavily invest in the data and infrastructure needed to effectively identify and communicate with Latinos.