October 22, 2020

The Cambridge Dictionary is super clear: “defamation is the action of damaging the reputation of a person or group by saying or writing bad things about them that are not true.” This is exactly what we’re seeing on social media and messaging apps right now in the United States. 

The harsh reality is that, fewer than two weeks before the presidential election, the battle against electoral disinformation has also turned into a fight against attempts to slander Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Both candidates have been targeted on a personal level, especially among the Hispanic community.

A Google search yesterday using the words “Biden pedófilo” (the Spanish for “Biden pedophile”) offered three harmful links. The second, third and fourth most relevant URLs showed the same: a video of the Democratic candidate talking to young girls during his U.S Senate swearing-in ceremony. It was an edited C-SPAN video that showed Biden whispering to minors years and hugging them constantly.

The second URL offered by Google leads users to a Twitter profile that, in addition to playing the edited content, stated, in Spanish: “Joe Biden, a pedophile candidate who is running for president of the United States. The left is a cancer against which we have to fight.” The third URL that appears in Google sends users to a YouTube page entitled: “Joe Biden, Democratic candidate in the U.S. Pedophilia ??? Draw your conclusions.” And the fourth URL redirects the user to a Facebook account, which also offered the C-SPAN edited video.

A fact check published by Univision appears as the first result, highlighting that there is no evidence that Biden is a pedophile. But it falls short. On the same page, users find three false pieces of content crying out for their attention. Look at the image below:

There are also many pieces of disinformation against Trump. It’s easy to find tweets accusing him of having harassed an aspiring model when she was 13 years old. Some people on social media insist that the Republican was friends with Jeffrey Epstein, refusing to acknowledge that the current president of the United States does not have any pending cases about this subject in court. A lawsuit, which was filed in 2016, was voluntarily withdrawn that same year, Univision says

But, even so, a search for the words “Trump acoso niña” (Trump harassing a girl, in Spanish) on Twitter reveals a series of photographs of the president with young women, followed by the sentence: “Donald Trump raped a 14-year-old girl four times,” plus a petition: “They are doing their best to remove this information, please disseminate it.”

Let it be clear that what is happening in the United States is unfortunately not very different from what happens in other countries. In Mexico, for example, the idea that current president Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador had a problem with alcohol gained strength in 2018. During the Mexican campaign, his detractors published a slowed-down video in which the politician appeared speaking very slowly, as if he was drunk. AFP explained it.

In 2017, days before the French presidential elections, websites and profiles on 4Chan posted that Emmanuel Macron had a hidden company in Nevis and a bank account in the Cayman Islands. The defamation also offered images of documents that he had supposedly signed. CheckNews, the fact-checking unit at the French newspaper Libération, published an article warning that there was no real evidence against Macron.

In other words: In the days prior to the elections, voters should be very careful with not only falsehoods, but also defamation. The 12 fact-checking organizations that are now collaborating on FactChat, the WhatsApp chatbot created by the IFCN, are ready to identify these types of attacks. But it is also your responsibility to help stop this agony.

* Read this article in Spanish at Univision.

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Cristina Tardáguila is the International Fact-Checking Network’s Associate Director. She was born in May 1980, in Brazil, and has lived in Rio de Janeiro for…
Cristina Tardáguila

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