Maria Teresa Kumar, President and CEO of Voto Latino, a nonprofit organization for the Latin American community, was confused when her own mother told her she would not be getting the COVID-19 vaccine. It took two months for Kumar to convince his mother, who works in the health sector and had been vaccinated, her and her children, all her life, to make an appointment. What had held her mother back were the videos she had watched imparting false accounts, especially one that showed a man pretending to be a pharmacist, warning in Spanish not to be vaccinated, Kumar recalls, “because it was a technology never introduced to humans before. “
The spread of misinformation and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine is common among a range of U.S. populations, including within the Latino community. In an April survey by Voto Latino, 40% of Latinos said they had received material saying the vaccine was not working. In order to urgently overcome this, especially as the Delta variant spreads, Voto Latino uses his behavioral learnings to fight far-right disinformation during elections to rally people to get shot, as he did so to register them to vote in 2020. For the organization, it is essential to maintain a large and influential electoral bloc healthy and confident in the government so that it continues to exercise its right to vote in the to come up.
Although the number is improving, the uptake of the vaccine by Latinos has been 1.2 times less than among whites in the majority of states. This is the case with other ethnic groups, such as blacks, with whom Latinos share some of the same barriers to access, such as frontline work that prevents employees from taking time off or lack of care. adequate health. Additionally, like the black community, Latinos have had their own dark experiences of being subjected to medical racism by the US government, including a history of forced sterilization of women in Los Angeles and Puerto Rico.
Misinformation around the COVID-19 vaccine compounds already existing fears. Some messages mistakenly claim that the vaccine is not scientifically reliable, and others that it causes infertility. More outlandish claims include that it contains a microchip or that it transforms you in zombie. Part of the reason these myths are so common among the Hispanic community is that Facebook doesn’t crack down on disinformation in Spanish to the same extent as it does in English. Once the information arrives on WhatsApp, it can then spread virally without any control. Of those who said they saw “harmful” information about the vaccine, 53% said it had been on Facebook and 43% on messaging apps.
The promoters of this disinformation are often individuals or groups who create digital content based on talking points from far-right cable news, radio shows or politicians, says Ameer Patel, vice president of programs. by Voto Latino. These bad actors can then receive donations from the followers, which not only fund the wide dissemination of lies, but can allow them to make a living from the practice. “One of the things we’re really seeing is there’s this great appetite to fund the flow of misinformation and disinformation,” he says. When a particular message resonates with a certain community, they tap more into that idea; for example, the myth of infertility has been particularly powerful among young Latinos, Patel says, perhaps because of popular family or religious beliefs.
With the CDC is already reporting that Latinos are 2 times more likely to be infected with the virus than whites, and 2.3 times more likely to die, Voto Latino has decided to help fight false narratives by implementing the Latino anti-disinformation laboratory with the Media Matters association. Although Voto Latino focuses on voting, Kumar says a healthy community that trusts government is essential for democracy, calling misinformation about vaccines “the most morbid form of voter suppression.” She adds, “If you don’t trust your government to take care of you and keep your family healthy with a vaccine, what’s the possibility that you can convince someone to vote?
The group is also in a privileged position to deliver its conclusions on the fight against far-right disinformation during the 2020 campaign. During this cycle, bad actors aimed to suppress the vote among certain blocs, and Voto Latino retaliated with strategies that ended up registering 426,964 voters, a record for the organization. They ran explanatory ads to educate people about the registration process, used peer-to-peer texting where volunteers sent personalized texts to people from local numbers, and encouraged people to contact likewise their friends and family. The idea was that receiving messages from people like them, whom they could relate to, would be more compelling than receiving impersonal, generic memos.
Now, the group is adopting similar behavioral techniques for the immunization campaign, with an ad campaign focusing on messages from people like them, rather than an unknown healthcare professional, for example. One of the two best-tested ads features a sixth-grade teacher expressing feelings of returning to school safe after being immunized, which Kumar says touches both educational and economic reasoning. The other features a woman who admits to being scared at first, “because it was new”, but who eventually received the photo and said it felt liberating. Importantly, both also point out that shooting is free, which a lot of people either don’t know or are told otherwise. Overall, the message is “optimistic but practical” and focuses on getting back to normal. As with his electoral strategy, Voto Latino does not laugh at any idea, however absurd it may be. “If you make fun of someone for their beliefs, they tend to turn around because they don’t mean they’re wrong,” Kumar says. “It’s the worst way to chat with someone.”
Voto Latino targets the 28% of people who said they were hesitant about the vaccine, rather than those “who are at the bottom of the rabbit hole” and more difficult to convince (again, a strategy similar to the election ). “We are entering the nooks and crannies of people’s internet,” Kumar says, referring to the targeting technique of showing their ads to people who have previously watched disinformation videos. They are currently running the ads on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
So far, they’ve been effective in calling for action: According to Google results, released last week, people who saw the ads were 54 times more likely to search for ‘get a covid vaccine’ than those who did not; and there was an overall spike in that search term of 7,171% in Florida, 5,856% in Texas, and 4,330% in California, the three states with the largest Latin American populations. And vaccination is increasing: As of July 4, 34% of people who had started their vaccination in the previous 14 days were Latin American, even though they represent only 17% of the population. Kumar says she believes the same methods could be used on other hesitant population groups, such as older whites and immigrant enclaves.
Success so far suggests that simply showing people care – to “give them love, attention and information in a non-judgmental way” – is a strategy. effective persuasion, both to promote vaccines and to maintain an active growing political voice in the long term. With her mother, what ultimately worked was the personal message of “Why wouldn’t someone want you to be healthy?” Why wouldn’t someone want you to see your grandchildren? “