Addressing Information Cycles between US Latinos and Latin America is Imperative in the Fight for Healthier Digital Democracies in the AmericasRoberta Braga / Nov 16, 2023
Roberta Braga is the Founder and Executive Director of the Digital Democracy Institute of the Americas (DDIA)
Many Latinos feel like guests in the United States, sometimes even after living in the country for generations. My parents—dual citizens, residing in a small town of 8,000 people in Wisconsin for over 25 years—certainly do. Equis polling research confirms they are not alone.
Latinos are not monolithic—our communities are diverse in values, experiences, perspectives, how we prioritize issues, and most importantly, how we engage with democracy. Some Latinos are citizens by birth, some by naturalization. Some Latinos are English-dominant, some Spanish-dominant, and many more are bilingual or multilingual. Most have very strong ties to Latin America, keeping in touch daily with family and friends, and with news and information there, through YouTube and WhatsApp. No matter our backgrounds, Latinos are some of the most digitally engaged groups in the world. More importantly, both online and offline, Latinos are a powerhouse for democracy.
Crafting a resilient, trustworthy information ecosystem for Latinos is a collective responsibility—one that involves researchers, policymakers, and community members. In an era overwhelmed by information disorder that translates to offline actions in ways we have yet to be able to effectively measure, we cannot underestimate the power of fact-based narratives to shape not just elections, but the very fabric of democracy itself.
In 2024, Latinos will play an outsized role in shaping the trajectory of the United States in the races for President and Congress. Latinos make up about 20% of the US population and accounted for 53% of population growth from 2010 to 2022. They were the largest ethnic minority to vote in the 2020 US presidential election, and record numbers turned out in the 2022 midterms.
Latinos are also a formidable economic force. Contributing $3.2 trillion to the nation's GDP, Latinos’ economic activities would rank fifth largest in the world, surpassing India's. As the fastest-growing segment of the workforce—most of whom are under the age of 25—Latinos are set to fundamentally reshape the future of the US economy through growth, participation, and educational attainment.
Despite the growing political and economic significance of Latinos in the US, there has been insufficient effort to understand online harms impacting these communities – from disinformation to scams and fraud to malign foreign influence – and how those harms actually translate to behavior offline.
Over the past decade, a confluence of factors– including false, misleading, and malign information online– have exacerbated a crisis of trust and polarization within and among democratic institutions, political leaders, the press, and the public. Despite these growing challenges, key stakeholders in government, research organizations and social media platforms have not kept pace in researching and combating the complex ecosystem of misinformation and disinformation targeting Latino communities. Current methods of content moderation frequently miss the mark, lacking the cultural and linguistic nuances required to identify and remove false or misleading content effectively within Spanish and Portuguese-language online ecosystems at scale.
And the problem is not limited to Latinos in the US.
US-Latin America information channels are multi-layered and complex, often peppered with misleading narratives that travel across borders in seconds. Such narratives not only confuse and divide, but also serve as tools of foreign influence. Strengthening societal resilience to information disorder online is one of the keys to preserving the health of communities and democracies. This work begins with a commitment to nuanced understanding and targeted action.
With a focus on understanding and working with one of the most digitally connected populations in the world — US Latinos and Latin Americans in the region — the Digital Democracy Institute of the Americas (DDIA) was launched on November 15 to harness insights at the intersection of information integrity, belief and behavior to address the roots of information disorder’s effects on communities.
Born from the work of the Equis Counter-Disinformation Department, DDIA exists to foster a healthy digital life for Latinos and to bridge the gaps in conversation between disciplines and those working directly with Latinos in the US and in Latin America. It does so through a unique approach to research and influence that combines public opinion research, narrative analysis, capacity-building and policy.
DDIA is operated by Latinos, for Latinos, in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Its cross-border insights and culturally competent work, combined with a focus on the root causes that shape belief and behavior, aims to strengthen an information environment free of harm and conducive to robust democratic participation.
In 2024, the US and five Latin American countries – El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Mexico, and Uruguay – will have presidential elections. As the US and Latin America gear up for another charged election season that will no doubt see content being shared at extreme rates across borders, the role of organizations like DDIA is increasingly indispensable.
It is time to harness the borderless, cyclical nature of digital connectivity among Latinos to focus on why people engage with and share what they do, what can be done about it, and what information people need to fully participate in democracy.
In an era of tech solutions to tech problems, centering the human experience in the future of healthy information ecosystems has never been more necessary for vibrant digital democracies.