September 24, 2020

On September 18, Franco Ordoñez, NPR White House correspondent, went on air sounding very worried. He had interviewed a Venezuelan woman in the Miami suburb of Doral, Florida, and confirmed that yes – Latinos in Florida were receiving tons of political disinformation via WhatsApp.

“There is messaging from QAnon, the movement that claims President Trump is saving the world from pedophiles, and other messages that equate Black Lives Matter protesters with Nazis,” he said. “They’re also targeting socialist and communist themes that really resonate with voters here because many of the residents, the voters, fled those kinds of regimes in Cuba and Venezuela and Nicaragua.”

The host of the show wanted to know: “How are people reacting?”

“It’s a big concern here,” Ordoñez replied..

The same day, Carmen Sesin, a reporter for NBC, addressed the same issue. She had interviewed a lady whose friend no longer believed in the importance of wearing a mask as a way to avoid COVID-19. In the same article on the NBC website, Sesin wrote about a video that went viral among Latinos in Miami stating that former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were secretly negotiating to sell uranium to Russia.

An alarm about political disinformation among the Spanish community, however, had been sounded four days earlier, in a detailed report by Sabrina Rodriguez and Marc Caputo in Politico. These two journalists reported that the Hispanic community was being targeted with attack ads suggesting that Democrat Joe Biden was ready “to hand over the United States to the Jews and the blacks.”

Yamil Velez, an assistant professor of Political Science at Columbia University, took to Twitter to protest that the disinformation campaign aimed at Hispanics was going unchallenged. Posting the link from Politico’s article, he wrote:

“I’m not seeing any fact-checking or ‘fake news’ labeling for Spanish-language misinformation on Twitter or Facebook. Conspiracies are flourishing with virtually no response from credible Spanish-language media outlets.”

The battle against such campaigns is, arguably, endless and always needs new weaponry. Last week the International Fact-Checking Network launched FactChat, its newest collaborative project to confront the spread, specifically on WhatsApp. FactChat won’t be the only antidote to disinformation described by Ordoñez, Sesin, Rodriguez and Caputo. But it is surely a step towards a more transparent presidential election, where voters, especially Spanish-speaking citizens, have access to reliable information and can make decisions based on facts – not hoaxes.

FactChat brings together 10 fact-checking organizations that publish content in English and two of the most important Spanish-language television networks in the United States: Univision and Telemundo.

Until the end of January 2021, when the next president takes office, this bilingual system, created with the financial support from WhatsApp and based on the technological development from Turn.io, will be available. It is completely free of charge to any citizen of the world.

In FactChat, the WhatsApp user can read the latest fact-checks published by IFCN’s members and also by the new fact-checking units that are flourishing at the two TV channels. At Univision, the material comes from elDetector. In Telemundo, it comes from T-Verifica.

But FactChat also allows the user to search for a specific topic. This means that, if the users are in a discussion and doubt about the veracity of an information, they can simply reach for their phones and ask the new IFCN chatbot about it. No need to fight about claims, photos and/or videos.

To start using it you only need to have a WhatsApp account set up. After that, you can choose your language preference. Access hola.factchat.me for  Spanish or  hi.factchat.me for  English.

And perhaps your skepticism about bad information will be rewarded.

Read this article in Spanish at Univision.

* Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa. She can be reached at ctardaguila@poynter.org.

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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…
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