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The Dangers of Disinformation

By Alba Villarreal

COVID-19 disinformation is false information that is spread with the intent of being harmful. As the pandemic rages on, COVID-19 disinformation is becoming more common throughout the country.  Communities who are most vulnerable are intentionally targeted to receive COVID-19 disinformation. It is specifically aimed at Latinx and Hispanic communities in the form of conspiracies. Disinformation is also the result of fear mongering, leveraging language barriers that harm the Latinx and Hispanic communities.

Hispanic people are limited in Spanish-language sources and rely heavily on unofficial, sometimes false sources to receive COVID-19-related information. When the information is not readily available to them in Spanish, they outsource to the internet to provide them with any information about COVID-19. Social media platforms like Facebook and messaging applications like Whatsapp help spread conspiracies at dangerous rates and can cause more harm than good.  In fact, a study conducted by VotoLatino shows that Facebook is the leading platform for the spread of disinformation amongst the Latinx community.[1] The community also heavily relies on Spanish radio and television.

In Miami, a Spanish radio show host was advertising a medicine named Ivermectin to treat COVID-19. [2]Despite being a drug used for livestock, Ivermectin gained a reputation of being able  to treat human illnesses involving parasites and then as a cure for COVID-19.[3] The Center for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned against using the drug as people are reporting severe illness after taking it. This instance is one of many where Latinx and Hispanic communities are fed false information that can lead to serious harm.

The harm that’s done extends past taking dangerous deworming medicine. It is also in the vaccination rates of the Latinx and Hispanic communities. While Latinx people represent 17% of the total vaccinated population[4], surveys show that amongst unvaccinated Latinx individuals, 51% are not planning on getting the vaccine. Unsurprisingly, that percentage rises to 67% in Spanish-speaking households. (Votolatino, 2021) The hesitancy of Hispanic households from taking the vaccine shows how effective the disinformation is and the urgency to promote factual information about COVID-19.

Disinformation is distinct from misinformation as disinformation is intended to be harmful. In a nation where a significant percentage of the population speaks Spanish, it is important that both disinformation and misinformation are limited. COVID-19 has already taken a toll on our communities and science shows that vaccines are incredibly effective in reducing further harm. If vaccine disinformation spreads, our community will continue to suffer. Government agencies and credible news sources should put in more effort to reach out to Hispanic and Latinx communities to ensure that factual information is spread.

[1] “NEW Study: Facebook Is Primary Driver of Covid-19 Misinformation in the LATINX Community, Fueling Vaccine Hesitancy.” Voto Latino, 2021, votolatino.org/media/press-releases/vaccine-hesitancy/.

[2] Sesin, Carmen. “Spanish-Language Covid Disinformation Is Aimed AT Latinos as DELTA SURGES.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 8 Sept. 2021, www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/spanish-language-covid-disinformation-aimed-latinos-delta-surges-rcna1809.

[3] Collins, Ben, and Brandy Zadrozny. “Ivermectin Demand Drives Some to pro-Trump Telemedicine Website.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 27 Aug. 2021, www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/ivermectin-demand-drives-trump-telemedicine-website-rcna1791.

[4] Nambi Ndugga  “Latest Data On COVID-19 Vaccinations by Race/Ethnicity.” KFF, 18 Aug. 2021, www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/latest-data-on-covid-19-vaccinations-race-ethnicity/.

 

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