To better understand the impact of disinformation and misinformation on subgroups of Latinos, the Digital Democracy Institute of the Americas (DDIA) carried out a second analysis of a 2022 Equis survey of 2,400 Latino adults in the United States and conducted the first ever meta-analysis of interventions for reducing Latino-targeted misinformation. Our findings will be shared in a three-part series:
This post will explore levels of adoption of misinformation among U.S. Latinos;
The second will unpack the typology of those who may be at risk for seeing and believing misinformation;
The third will explore antidotes and counter-measures and lay out research questions for the future.
In 2022, Equis measured familiarity and belief in 16 false claims (with each respondent being presented with eight claims selected from four buckets). The survey also analyzed standard demographics, psychological orientations, and political variables. Equis found that most respondents were uncertain about whether the claims were true or false and explored that in depth.
Understanding that interventions and counter-measures may differ for those who are uncertain and those who are believing, DDIA took a second dive to understand: Who are the Latinos that are seeing and believing disinformation and misinformation and what characteristics do these subgroups share?
In this analysis, DDIA took a look at the data to decipher risk factors tied to acceptance of misinformation, which include:
Media Exposure: belonging to information environments where false claims might be encountered
Discernment: likelihood of distinguishing between authentic and false information
Motivation: having existing beliefs that are reinforced by misinformation
Demographics: age, gender, occupation or income levels
We define the adoption of misinformation within Latino communities using a three-tier measure that captures the degree to which individuals believe the false claims:
Level 1 Adoption - not believing any false claims
Level 2 Adoption - believing one false claim
Level 3 Adoption - believing two or more false claims
The last group is of particular concern as it indicates a pattern of accepting multiple false claims, potentially revealing systematic vulnerabilities to misinformation. This group behaves differently from Level 1 and 2 Latinos by exhibiting higher levels of exposure and a much higher level of confidence in misinformation.
Per Equis’ original findings, the majority of the 2,400 Latino respondents (53%) had not fully embraced any of the false claims Equis tested, and fell into the Level 1 category of not outright accepting any of the false claims.
Level 1 Latinos see fewer false claims and express more uncertainty when exposed.
22% of respondents believed one false claim (Level 2).
25% believed two or more false claims (Level 3).
Level 3 Latinos are exposed to more misinformation and are more confident in their beliefs about false narratives.
Political engagement, partisan identity strength, conspiratorial predispositions, partisan media consumption, and WhatsApp engagement correlate with belief adoption among Latinos.
Level 3 Latinos (i.e., those who are familiar with and believe two or more false narratives) tend to be politically engaged, espouse conspiratorial thinking, consume partisan media, and are more likely to identify as men and Evangelical. Contrary to media narratives, these Latinos are overwhelmingly English dominant, suggesting that a singular focus on Spanish-language misinformation may ignore those who are at times more likely to see and believe misinformation.
Most U.S. Latinos have avoided the deluge of misinformation, but risks remain
Segmenting Latinos into three categories based on their acceptance of false claims (i.e., no false claims, one false claim, and two or more false claims), most Latinos have either not been exposed to viral false claims or have seen false claims but have not accepted them (53%).
The remaining 47% of the sample can be classified as a mix of Level 2 and Level 3 Latinos, who have adopted one or more false beliefs about politics or medicine.
Level 3 Latinos see more misinformation and believe it more often
A majority of Latinos are neither seeing nor believing disinformation and misinformation online, and they are skeptical when they do see it. On average, this group, the Level 1 Latinos, report seeing 41% of the tested narratives. Of the claims they have seen, this group feels uncertain about 59% of the claims. It is important to note that Latinos in the Level 1 category are not a static population. Though they may not yet accept false claims, uncertainty may create opportunities for misinformation to take root, especially in high-stakes situations where disinformation and misinformation are more likely to circulate, such as is likely to be the case in the upcoming 2024 U.S. elections. This is both an opportunity and a challenge for those working to counter misinformation.
Level 2 Latinos report seeing 55% of the tested narratives, and believe 27% of the claims they have seen. Of the claims they have seen, this group feels uncertain about 43% of the narratives and rejects 30% of the claims. Level 2 Latinos may be passionate believers of a single claim or narrative, but unlike Level 3 Latinos, have not yet begun to accept “bundles” of misinformation floating online.
Level 3 Latinos report seeing 81% of the tested narratives and believe 80% of the claims they have seen. Of the claims they have seen, this group rejects a meager seven percent. Given that this group is defined by acceptance of misinformation, this is not surprising. However, the rate at which they confidently believe false claims requires further investigation.
Figure 1. Left panel – Misinformation exposure rates among Level 1-3 Latinos. Level 1 Latinos are exposed to less misinformation, on average, than Level 2 and 3 Latinos.
Right panel – When they are exposed, expressing uncertainty about seen claims is more common than explicit rejection among Level 1 and 2 Latinos. Level 3 Latinos are more likely to accept claims they have seen relative to Level 2 and 3 Latinos.
Psychology, politics, and media consumption – not demographics – predict misinformation susceptibility
Despite claims of misinformation spreading more rapidly in battleground states, Latinos in the Sunshine and Lone Star states (Florida and Texas, respectively) have similar misinformation adoption profiles to those who reside elsewhere.
Demographics – age, gender, education, occupation or income levels – alone did not clearly separate the Latinos who believed no false narratives (Level 1) from those that were more likely to believe two or more false narratives (Level 3).
Likewise, national origin groups that receive significant attention such as Cubans and Venezuelans were no more likely to fall into the Level 3 category than other groups.
Instead, what most differentiated Latinos in the Level 3 categories were psychological predispositions (e.g., conspiratorial beliefs about secretive elites who control global affairs), political orientations (e.g., partisanship), political interest, and media consumption habits.
Here, countries of origin and lived experiences may influence such factors, though more research is needed to understand the sequence of influence.
Figure 2. This figure compares Latinos on the lower end (red points) and upper end (green points) of each variable, focusing on the share of each subgroup level that belongs to Level 3.
A profile of high-misinformation-adoption Latinos
We now directly compare Level 1 to Level 3 Latinos to generate a profile of those who are more likely to believe misinformation.
Latinos in the Level 3 category are more likely to espouse conspiratorial thinking, frequently use WhatsApp, and hold stronger partisan identities. They also exhibit a higher degree of political interest. Their media consumption patterns lean towards ideological sources, and they are more likely to self-identify as Evangelicals. They are also more likely to identify as male and less likely to complete surveys in Spanish. This points to an archetype of the distrustful, but politically engaged Latino who may be primed to accept false claims about political candidates and parties.
Figure 3. Differences between Level 1 and 3 Latinos across different subgroups.
A roadmap for the future
The findings illustrate the importance of unpacking variation within our community to better understand the pervasiveness of misinformation. Though most Latinos have not embraced false claims, a sizable number of them have begun to accept bundles of falsehoods floating around social media. Those who are seeing and believing false claims online are plugged into politics, consuming partisan media and holding strong partisan identities. Many also embrace conspiratorial beliefs about manipulative and secret elites who control global affairs.
Though we focus on understanding Latinos who have adopted false beliefs, those in the Level 1 category are not immune to misinformation. Indeed, when exposed to false claims, many in this category do not confidently reject these narratives, but instead express uncertainty. This implies that upward movement in belief adoption is always a possibility for some in this group, though so is an openness to persuasion and fact-based information.
What can be done to address this issue? Interventions such as fact-checking (debunking) and inoculation (prebunking) are common methods for combating misinformation. Whereas debunking focuses on directly countering false narratives or claims, prebunking makes people aware of disinformation tactics, rendering manipulation attempts less effective in the future. Preliminary tests we have conducted show that prebunking and debunking work, even among many of the high-risk groups we have identified.
In the coming months, we will be developing and testing methods for combating misinformation that are culturally competent and remain mindful of belief profiles within our communities. For example, providing prebunking interventions to uncertain Level 1 Latinos could strengthen their defenses against misinformation, while focusing debunking interventions on Level 2 and 3 Latinos who have already adopted false beliefs may be especially effective.
Though many have accepted that Latinos are a voting bloc with diverse interests, nuanced understanding of our communities and our engagement with disinformation and misinformation in information environments lags behind. It is due time we correct the record.