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Dispelling disinformation — en Español — in U.S. Hispanic communities

Factchequeado's Rafael Olavarría presents about electoral disinformation at a workshop for Latino leaders at a workshop hosted by GALEO November 2023, in Atlanta, GA.
Photo courtesy of GALEO
Factchequeado's Rafael Olavarría presents about electoral disinformation at a workshop for Latino leaders at a workshop hosted by GALEO November 2023, in Atlanta, GA.

Leer en español.

No, President Biden didn't order the criminal case against former President Trump. No, O.J. Simpson didn't die from COVID-19 vaccines. And, no, drinking seawater is not healthy.

These are among the latest rumors, conspiracy theories and other false news items debunked by Factchequeado, a Spanish-language website that counters misinformation and disinformation aimed at millions of people in the U.S. Spanish-speaking community.

Factchequeado is a project led by Maldita, the first nonprofit fact-checking media organization created to combat disinformation in Spain, and Chequeado, the first fact-checking media team in Argentina and across the Global South.

Rafael Olavarría, the lead fact-checker on immigration and politics for Factchequeado, told WLRN in an interview that disinformation and misinformation is frequently finding its way into the vast U.S. Spanish-speaking community — which numbers 40 million people.

Olavarría says that Latinos and other immigrant groups in the United States are constantly exposed to misinformation that is “U.S.-borne” or misinformation that starts in their home countries and then makes its way here through messaging apps like WhatsApp.

If you receive anything from your friends or family that seems like misinformation, Olavarría says a simple thing to do right away is to just ask them where they got that from.

“You can ask questions … like, 'Hey that video you just sent me, did you record that video? Have you seen that on the news? Have you Googled it?'” he said. “Try to ask questions to see if, at the same time, they can get the habit of fact-checking what they're seeing in their WhatsApp."

Olavarría also says it’s important to process how a piece of information makes you feel. Scammers want to go viral by playing off your emotions and fears, making things seem more horrible or good than they are.

READ MORE: PolitiFact FL: State has not taken steps to ban COVID-19 vaccines

Check in with your gut feeling and check if what you’re seeing is true. Images can be put into Google Lens, which is represented by the camera icon on the Google search bar.

Google Lens will tell you if the picture is recent or old and the websites you can find it on. This will let you know if the image you’ve been sent is from a current or past event.

Factchequeado has a chatbot that works via WhatsApp that lets them use AI to help people find out if something is factual or not. So you can send in whatever you want and they will work to verify it.

The WhatsApp number for the bot is +1 (646)-873-6087.

“We'll make sure they get the right information," Olavarría said. "And once it's done, they'll have it there in their phones, and they will be able to share it.

“Nobody wants to be fooled, and no one wants to become a useful tool for those who want to spread misinformation … We're here for everything the Latino community needs that's currently not out there in the information environment that we have in the United States.”

The impact of disinformation and misinformation on such a large group goes deeper than what is transmitted. False information can affect one’s physical and mental health, finances and how they perceive their communities.

It can also affect their vote.

“That’s one of the reasons why we are working so hard towards the next election,” Olavarría said. “We won't tell people who to vote for, but we just want them to have an informed vote … and not make a decision based on something that's untrue.”

Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Host.
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