The fight for a stronger democracy faces two distinct and sometimes indistinguishable battles: an attack on voting rights by Republican legislators and the rampant spread of online misinformation and disinformation.
These were the topics of concern at a Voting Rights Policy Roundtable hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in September. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with advocates from across the United States to discuss legislative solutions for voting rights ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.
Their main concerns? The enactment of restrictive voter laws and widespread election mis and disinformation online—both of which disproportionately and negatively impact Black and Hispanic voters.
In 2020, Americans voted in record numbers, with 66.8% of eligible voters casting a ballot. Over 16 million Latino voters cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election, a 30.9% increase from the 2016 presidential election. There is no doubt that Black and Latino voters played a key role in electing President Joe Biden to the White House.
The Republican response to this: voter suppression.
Since the 2020 election, 21 states have passed restrictive voter laws. These laws make it harder to cast a ballot via vote-by-mail. They hinder language accessibility, promote voter purges, enact stringent voter ID laws, and encourage polling location closures. It is no wonder that voters of color consistently face and will continue to experience longer wait times on Election Day and have more trouble accessing polling locations.
These laws have been coupled with lies about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, which culminated on January 6 at our nation’s Capitol. Many of these lies, however, are still rapidly spreading online.
This gets at the heart of the second battle: the spread of mis and disinformation online.
Recently, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with top executives at TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter in an attempt to discuss the spread of mis and disinformation in Spanish.
In 2021, a study found that 70% of Spanish-language content was not flagged with warning labels by Facebook, in comparison to 29% of English-language content. This leaves Spanish-speaking users with a higher risk of encountering lies that can cost lives.
Mis and disinformation take on many forms online, ranging from false information about voting times and locations to false claims that immigration enforcement officials are monitoring polling locations. Such information can spread easily on online platforms. Across the board, there is also a lack of transparency about how social media companies tackle Spanish-language misinformation.
Our democracy depends on us acting.
Finding solutions requires a multifaceted approach that involves multiple actors, from Congress to social media platforms.
The Senate must act on our progress in the House by passing the For the People Act, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.
It is up to social media companies to guarantee the responsible use of their platforms, prevent false information from spreading, and inform the public about the tools that they use to do so. A failure to act may require legislative solutions.
There is no doubt that overcoming these challenges will be an uphill battle. However, it is a necessary one if we want to protect our democracy, freedom, and the fundamental right to vote for generations to come.
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