Scroll down for versions of this content in Spanish and Portuguese.

Bad actors spreading disinformation and misinformation about elections and voting most frequently disseminate false or misleading claims about the process or procedures, such as claims of illegal voting, ballot manipulation, and ineligible voters participating in elections. Sowing doubt about the legitimacy of election processes and subsequent outcomes create divisions, undermine trust in the system, and erode citizens' faith in government institutions and elected officials. Information and disinformation about elections have impacts far beyond one country’s border. Latinos in the United States are exposed to and engage with election disinformation from domestic and foreign actors, and content from Latin America is shaping their views. The same can be said about Latinos in Latin America, with content from the United States influencing their views. 

Why Do These Narratives Matter?

In 2024, the United States and five Latin American countries – El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Mexico, and Uruguay – will have presidential elections. Information disorder online, particularly disinformation during election time, has been a regional concern for years. This phenomenon has the potential to influence public opinion and disrupt democratic processes.

In the United States, Latino communities are concentrated in some of the most competitive electoral states, including Florida, Arizona, and Nevada. In some cases, Latino communities are targeted online with false or misleading information, including deceptive claims about the voting process, to manipulate their opinions and suppress voter turnout. 

In many countries across the Americas, principally in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, disinformation about electoral processes, including false information about the security of voting machines or voting ballots, has been exacerbating distrust in institutions, spanning government, media, and civil-society organizations, for years. The same or similar election-related narratives dating back to the 2016 elections in the United States and the 2018 elections in the three countries have continued to proliferate in elections since. This was evident when Brazilians stormed the three seats of power on January 8, 2023, in a manner reminiscent of, and in large part exacerbated by similar narratives to what was seen in the United States leading up to January 6, 2021. 

Where and How are These Narratives Spreading?

False information about elections and voting often centers on the Big Lie. In the period surrounding the 2020 and 2022 U.S. elections and subsequent weeks, Spanish-language accounts, hyper-partisan news outlets, and influencers based in the United States and Latin America perpetuated doubts about the fairness and safety of elections. They often highlighted typical mistakes, technical issues, and delays that occurred at polling locations, thereby raising concerns about the overall integrity of the US electoral system and its outcomes.

Throughout the week of the 2022 U.S. midterm elections, numerous accounts and posts attempted to draw false parallels between long voting lines, fluctuating vote tallies, early predictions or delayed vote counts, and problems with voting machines in Arizona, Colorado, and Texas. These misleading connections fueled conspiracy theories suggesting a left-wing or “deep state” conspiracy aimed at overthrowing the election and thus undermining the integrity of the electoral system.

The recycling of disinformation continues to be common. Claims like dead people voting, ballot harvesting, and duplicate voting are frequently employed to support the overarching narrative of the Big Lie. Partisan news outlets and influencers based in Latin America also harnessed specific stories to cast doubt on US elections. For example, a right-wing Spanish-language news outlet based in Argentina, a Spanish-language YouTube channel affiliated with The Epoch Times (a known right-wing misinformation site), and a long-time disinformation-spreading Latino influencer in Colombia, were some of the many accounts that shared posts and videos insinuating a false cover-up and questioning the integrity of the 2022 US elections.

Much of what happened in Brazil in early 2023, including the storming of government buildings, mirrored what was seen in the 2020 U.S. elections, January 2021, and leading up to the 2022 midterms in the United States. Similarly, Spanish and Portuguese-language accounts in the United States and Latin America harnessed the Brazilian presidential election to cement the conspiracy that there are worldwide efforts and collusion to overthrow elections in the Americas. 

Problematic and misleading narratives about elections go far beyond the United States and Brazil. According to the Latin American Center for Investigative Journalism (CLIP), bad actors have been known to create mock news sites and fake social media accounts to publish favorable stories and spread messages in support of their candidates or party in Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

Looking to the Future

In 2023, baseless voter fraud narratives and deceptive claims about the voting process continue to spread in Latino spaces online and will likely intensify leading up to 2024 presidential elections in the United States and across the Americas. Combating this issue is not just a matter of identifying and removing false content but also involves communicating with voters about the intricacies of electoral processes, ensuring that accurate information is easily accessible, and promoting engagement and participation in elections year-round. This complex and multifaceted problem requires a continued and coordinated response from various sectors of society, including governments, tech companies, media, and civil society organizations, to safeguard the integrity of elections and foster an informed and engaged electorate.

Spanish version - Versión en Español

Portuguese version - Versão em português