COVID-19 crisis: Vaccine conspiracy theories, hoaxes in Spanish targeting Hispanic community breed fear, hesitancy
Knocking down false rumors, conspiracy theories and misleading news reports that play on vaccine fears have become routine and necessary for treating patients.
But he says it’s nearly impossible to keep up with all the falsehoods shared by friends, relatives, even celebrities, on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube and in private messaging apps like WhatsApp.
“We can have all the vaccines in the world here in the U.S., but, if they don’t go in the shoulder, all of our efforts are meaningless,” Shapiro said.
Research shows that health and vaccine-related falsehoods and conspiracy theories are some of the most pervasive forms of misinformation targeting Hispanic communities.
They blame lax enforcement, errors in translation such as misinterpreting slang, dialects and context and poor fact-checking of Spanish-language news sites.
“Facebook continues to ignore our concerns and is making one thing perfectly clear: the safety and dignity of the Latinx community is not their priority,” said Brenda Victoria Castillo, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
In a statement, Facebook said it shares the organizations’ goal of stopping Spanish-language misinformation on its apps.
“We are taking aggressive steps to fight misinformation in Spanish and dozens of other languages, including by removing millions of pieces of COVID-19 and vaccine content,” the company said in a statement.
“We also understand that a key part of getting accurate information out is working with communities, which is why we’re providing free ads to health organizations to promote reliable information about COVID-19 vaccines,” Facebook said. “We’re continuing to work on stopping misinformation, including Spanish-language content, and want to continue our dialogue with these groups to strengthen our approach.”
Facebook uses a mix of human moderators and automated systems to identify Spanish-language misinformation and disinformation. Four of 10 fact-checking partners in the U.S. evaluate content in Spanish, according to the company. If posts are flagged but not removed, Facebook says it makes sure fewer people see them and offers users context in Spanish.
Despite these efforts, misinformation continues to spread on Facebook and WhatsApp, undercutting public trust in the vaccines, says Daniel Acosta-Ramos, who monitors vaccine misinformation in the U.S. for the nonprofit First Draft.
Some posts claim that the vaccine contains a microchip, causes cancer or that it will alter people’s DNA or is part of a satanic ritual.
Others embrace religion, saying God will cure them if they come down with COVID-19. One meme shared in a religious, Spanish-speaking WhatsApp group read: “The only cure I need is the church.”
Lack of reliable vaccine information in Spanish and poorly translated information combined with too little government outreach have made it easier for vaccine misinformation to spread, Shapiro said.
“When you have lack of contact with a community, something fills out that space and, in this case, that’s fear,” he said.
Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., says he has seen firsthand in his district and in his own family how misinformation and disinformation on social media create vaccine hesitancy.
His 78-year-old mother-in-law, whose primary language is Spanish, recently asked Cárdenas: “Is it true that there are some kind of electronic things that they are going to put in your body?”
“The bottom line is that’s a perfect example of how vulnerable any community can be,” Cárdenas said. “And for organizations like Facebook to ignore an entire community of 60 million people in America, and a subset of that, about 40 million people who communicate in Spanish, for them to do that, is derelict.”
“Low rates of vaccination among Hispanic people would leave them at increased risk for the virus, could further widen existing health disparities and would leave gaps that hinder our ability to achieve overall population immunity,” the foundation said.
Fears about the vaccines’ safety and side effects can have devastating results on communities that already face other hurdles to getting vaccinated, Shapiro said.
Some 43% of Latinos are essential workers and work outside the home, making them more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Latinos are twice as likely to lack health insurance and more likely than white adults to say they don’t have easy access to a health care provider. For some, there are language and literacy challenges.
From the 1930s through the 1970s, for example, about a third of the female population in Puerto Rico was sterilized under population control policies that coerced women into postpartum sterilization after their second child’s birth, according to the University of Wisconsin’s Office of the Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian annotated bibliography on the topic.
“Low rates of vaccination among Hispanic people would leave them at increased risk for the virus, could further widen existing health disparities, and would leave gaps that hinder our ability to achieve overall population immunity,” the foundation said.
“Misinformation has always been a problem,” said Bárzaga, CEO of the nonprofit Desert Healthcare District and Foundation. “When we started working with vaccine distribution, we started hearing a lot of conspiracy theories and people would ask us if the vaccine has the virus in it.”
Not every South or Central American who comes to the U.S. speaks Spanish. Many farmworkers in Coachella speak Purépecha, an indigenous language spoken in certain regions of Mexico, so Bárzaga started circulating information in that language, too.
“It is extremely important right now that we continue vaccinating our communities against fear with a dose of truth,” Shapiro said. “If we don’t solve this problem, we are going to lose more people.”
Source: USA Today