MIAMI – Messages proliferated on election night before anything definitive from a distance was known about the results of the presidential race. “Robado,” they falsely repeated over and over in Spanish: President Trump was deprived of a victory. He had won Arizona. George Soros was funding violent “anti-fa riots”.
Unfounded messages to Latinos trying to delegitimize the election and the results of Joseph R. Biden Jr. circulated online Tuesday night and Wednesday, as part of a disinformation campaign aimed at undermining Latino confidence in the government. vote as it unfolds.
Ahead of election day, fake news in Spanish attempted to turn Latinos against Black Lives Matter and tie Mr. Biden to socialism, tactics which experts believe could depress the Hispanic vote. Now that the vote is over, the rampant lies have attracted only a wider audience – including among immigrants less familiar with the institutions of American democracy. The gist of the lies is that the election is “rigged” against Mr. Trump.
“These stories of disinformation are helping to plunge the country further into chaos and confusion,” said Fadi Quran, director at Avaaz, a nonprofit that tracks disinformation. He called the disinformation campaigns a “democratic emergency”. “The country’s most vulnerable communities pay the highest price,” he said.
For weeks, election security officials and experts braced for what was widely believed to be an election marred by hacking and disinformation. They focused on familiar adversaries in Russia, who weeks earlier had been caught hiring people in Mexico and Venezuela to spread Instagram and Facebook content.
Officials and researchers have expressed concern over Iranian interference after Iranians posing as members of the far-right group Proud Boys threatened Democrats not to vote. The Justice Department announced on Wednesday the withdrawal of dozens of Iranian propaganda sites targeting Americans. And Microsoft and United States Cyber Command have separately targeted Russian cybercriminals’ hacking infrastructure in an attempt to stave off the kinds of ransomware attacks that could freeze electoral systems.
But on Tuesday, they breathed a sigh of relief as Election Day passed relatively unscathed. It was, an administration official said, just another Tuesday on the internet.
Yet 24 hours later, it emerged that Facebook and Twitter may have overlooked the deluge of disinformation targeting Spanish-speaking Americans. Highly-followed Spanish-language accounts falsely claimed that Mr. Trump got a quick victory, that social media was censoring his victory, and that Mr. Biden was cheating.
Highly-followed Twitter accounts pushed a debunked conspiracy theory, adopted by some prominent US conservatives, that election workers in Maricopa County, Arizona, gave Trump voters pens that could not be detected by scanners of ballots. Others have claimed that armed protesters funded by billionaire Soros were taking control of the U.S. Capitol.
On Wednesday, disinformation experts like Mr Quran compared the flood of disinformation in Spanish to an emergency and called on social media platforms to retroactively notify anyone interested in the content that the claims were false.
The scope of disinformation is vast. In just 24 hours, Spanish-language disinformation generated traffic that even eclipsed the interference campaign conducted by the Kremlin-backed Russian Internet Research Agency four years ago.
On Facebook, a video posted to a seven-month-old Colombian account called Mr. Capacho en Vivo, with 40,000 followers, accused Twitter of censoring Mr. Trump’s victory and had already been viewed more than 500,000 times – far more traffic than the Russian trolls. generated with fake Black Lives Matter ads prior to the 2016 election.
Marketed as a global financial and political news page, the Colombian account pushed for QAnon conspiracies, such as the baseless belief that the main Democrats are part of a global cabal of Satanist child molesters. On Monday, the same account posted an edited and deceptive video of Mr. Biden touching children, falsely claiming he was a “superpredator.” As of Wednesday, the video had been viewed approximately 45,000 times.
Another Spanish-speaking influencer, Ciro Gómez Leyva, who has more than two million YouTube subscribers, posted a video Tuesday night in which he claimed that 150 antifa members were descending on Washington with “gas masks, weapons and shields ”. As protesters marched outside the White House, there was no evidence that any weapons were involved.
On the Spanish-language Campechaneando YouTube channel, a host warned viewers not to believe news that Mr. Biden had passed Mr. Trump in the Electoral College tally. Some 160,000 people watched the video on Wednesday.
On another Spanish-language channel, Informativo G24, with more than 500,000 subscribers, hosts on Tuesday compared the Democrats to the Nazis. The video has been viewed some 350,000 times.
In Miami, a Spanish-language radio show, “Cada Tarde con Carinés Moncada y Agustín Acosta,” on Tuesday night made denied claims that Republican poll observers were not allowed to observe polling places in Pennsylvania. .
In September, one of the show’s co-hosts, Carinés A. Moncada, advanced a conspiracy theory that a Black Lives Matter co-founder was involved in devil worship.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to know how much misrepresentation influenced Latino voters before election day. But the center of much of this misinformation was South Florida, home to a diverse community of Latinos, many of whom have fled authoritarian leftist regimes and are receptive to messages about socialism.
When the Miami-Dade County results arrived on Tuesday, Mr. Trump exceeded expectations. Strong support from Hispanic voters helped him easily win Florida and allowed Republicans to overthrow two congressional seats in the state.
Juan Pablo Salas, a Colombian political analyst in Sarasota, Florida, said he feared that disinformation involving Bogotá, Miami and Washington was a coordinated effort between right-wing interests in Colombia and the United States, “to transform essentially our Colombian-American. community in the tip of the spear of the offense played by the far right.
“They have invested a lot of money to make South Florida a campaign stronghold,” Salas said of the Republican Party and the party of former President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, which is close to many Republicans from Miami.
On Tuesday evening, Eduardo A. Gamarra, professor of political science at the International University of Florida, agreed to analyze the election on NTN24, a television news channel based in Colombia. He found himself on the air arguing with Omar Bula Escobar, a former United Nations official known for, among other false statements, claiming that Mr Soros controls the Democratic Party, an anti-Semitic trope adopted by QAnon.
Dr Gamarra said he dismissed Mr Bula Escobar’s unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud and then phoned the network after the interview ended.
“I said, ‘Don’t ever do that to me again. Research your guests, ”he said. “It’s irresponsible.”
A producer on the show did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Evelyn Pérez-Verdía, a Latin American Democratic strategist in South Florida, said she spent four hours on Tuesday trying to debunk false claims on Spanish-language radio that Mr Biden, a moderate, was a radical on the left.
“The Republicans called him a socialist, during those four hours, 20 times,” she said. “And a radical five times, and a Castro-Chavist” – a reference to Fidel Castro from Cuba and Hugo Chávez from Venezuela – “three times. Repeat a lie and repeat it until it becomes the truth.
Patricia Mazzei reported from Miami and Nicole Perlroth from San Francisco.