Spanish-Language QAnon Accounts Spread Pro-Trump Misinformation in Florida

Social media networks have a big blind spot: disinformation in Spanish.
November 5, 2020, 1:50pm
​YouTube/El Oraculo de Zamna
YouTube/El Oraculo de Zamna
Logo_Disinfo Dispatch Padding
Unraveling viral disinformation and explaining where it came from, the harm it's causing, and what we should do about it.

When Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube announced major actions against QAnon accounts in recent months, they were praised for the swift and apparently successful dismantling of the networks on their platforms.

But QAnon followers don’t only speak English, and the social networks’ blind spot to accounts in other languages meant that major accounts and channels that promote the baseless conspiracy theory have remained on their platforms. 

Now those same accounts are using their reach to spread election disinformation targeting Latino voters.

On Wednesday, with the outcome of the presidential election unclear, a number of hugely popular Spanish-language YouTube channels that typically share conspiracy theories began broadcasting their own live election coverage. 

One of those was El Oraculo de Zamna, who claimed during his live stream on Wednesday that Trump had won the election and that Democrats were trying to launch a coup against Trump.

YouTube’s failure to sanction these Spanish-language channels highlights a major weak spot in social media companies’ efforts to eradicate misinformation: Those efforts are typically focused on English-language content, allowing Spanish-language disinformation to flourish.

“When it comes to misinformation in Spanish, it usually survives for much longer and continues to circulate on some platforms,” Jamie Longoria Castillo, an investigative researcher at First Draft News, told VICE News.

“And this is a huge problem because a considerable portion of it is a literal translation of some other post that was flagged and removed by the platform.”

Ahead of the election, activists flagged Spanish-language campaigns they were seeing on the ground aimed at suppressing the Latino vote using a combination of WhatsApp, social media, and even billboards. 

“The data we encountered pointed toward Spanish-language misinformation targeting Biden and Harris shared among Latinx voters in South Florida — especially those in Miami-Dade County and other pivotal areas,” Samuel Woolley, the program director of propaganda research at the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin, told VICE News.

And those campaigns might have worked.

Miami-Dade, Florida’s most populous county, was seen ahead of the election as a lock for a huge Biden win. But on Tuesday he carried the county — which is home to a diverse Latino community — by just 7 points. Hillary Clinton won it by 30.

It’s unclear how much the disinformation campaigns targeting Latino communities impacted that vote, but in the wake of the results on Tuesday, those spreading disinformation didn’t stop, though they did shift their narratives dramatically repeating much of the disinformation shared by the Trump campaign.

On Facebook, researchers from Avaaz found 43 Spanish-language posts related to voter fraud, violence, and premature declarations of victory, gleaned 1,116,566 interactions as of 12 noon ET on Wednesday.

Mr. Capacho en Vivo, a seven-month-old Colombian account that labels itself “news and media” and has 40,000 followers, posted a video that claims — without evidence — that the mainstream media is censoring the fact that Trump is winning. 

The video, which is still live on Facebook, has racked up over half a million views and shares already. 

A Spanish-language influencer, Ciro Gómez Leyva, who has almost 3 million followers on Facebook, posted a video claiming that, according to the projections, Trump will be the president for another four years — a claim that could breach Facebook’s policy against making premature declarations of victory.

The video has been viewed and shared almost 300,000 times so far.

Leyva also posted a video claiming armed Antifa protesters descended on Washington with “gas masks, arms, and shields.” While protesters did march near the White House, there was no evidence they were armed.

Facebook and YouTube did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Woolley said initial evidence suggests the disinformation messages targeting the Latino community are coordinated, though it is too early to say that for certain, or to say who was behind such campaigns. 

"These misinformation narratives are helping plunge the country further into chaos and confusion, and often the most vulnerable communities in the country are paying the highest price,” Fadi Quran, program director global civic organization Avaaz said in an emailed statement.

“It is a democratic emergency, and the platforms need to immediately adopt new policies such as retroactively sending corrections to all users who see misinformation.”

Here’s what else is happening in the world of election disinformation.

Trump’s disinformation is Facebook’s top content

How badly have Facebook’s efforts to stop Trump from spreading disinformation failed?

On Wednesday, two posts from the president that were labeled by the social network as questionable were the top-performing content across the entire platform.

While Twitter’s measures include the ability to block Trump’s messages from being shared further, Facebook’s measures don’t include that, so disinformation from Trump and his allies continues to spread almost unchecked on Facebook.

Disinformation is spreading on TikTok

Despite having explicit policies to prevent it, TikTok is enabling the rapid spread of misinformation about the election, an investigation by Media Matters for American found.

The researchers identified 11 examples of election misinformation spreading on TikTok on Wednesday, with over 200,000 combined views and counting.  

Just like disinformation on other platforms, the TikTok videos falsely allege mass voter fraud, but they also include unfounded “magic ballot” narratives claiming that newly counted mail-in ballots for Democratic nominee Joe Biden are fraudulent, and baseless ‘Sharpiegate’ allegations about Arizona poll workers intentionally handing out markers to Trump voters so that their ballots would not be processed and go uncounted. 

Disinformation: LIVE

Why just share your disinformation in boring text, memes, or videos when platforms like Facebook provide you with the ability to get those lies out to the public live?

Well, that’s just what the presenter of the video entitled “LEFT PLANS COUP / REVOLUTION NOV 3RD 2020?” did. 

The video racked up 2,500 concurrent viewers on Facebook Live, Buzzfeed News reported, adding that Facebook even promoted the live stream, putting it as the second recommended result on the platform’s live video product. 

The video was ultimately removed after a concerned Facebook employee raised concerns about the video. But by then it had been viewable for several hours and had clocked up over 100,000 views.