This article is part of the DisinfoPortal’s #StratComDC article series. You can watch #StratComDC here.
How is digital propaganda targeting Hispanics in the 2018 US midterm elections? To respond this question, we conducted a data analysis on two of the most popular social media platforms for political discussion: Twitter and Reddit. We collected over 2,423 tweets and 1,463 Reddit posts mentioning topics related to Hispanics, US politics and topics related to the midterm elections from September 24th, 2017 to September 24th, 2018. We analyzed people’s posting patterns over time and the digital traces of the individuals pushing the majority and most popular content.
Our research provides evidence that on Twitter there are two main actors discussing Hispanics and politics: “Pro-Hispanic NGOs” (NGOs focused on helping Hispanics thrive in the US, but who have limited political conversations) and “Pro-Trump one-hit wonders.” (celebrities who support Trump and send one tweet about how Trump benefits Hispanics.) On Reddit we identified that there was a mix of highly active people: (1) individuals posting about president Trump being racist against Hispanics; (2) people who simply posted news stories about Hispanics and politics; and (3) political trolls focused on mobilizing people to vote Republican (pro-Trump) in the elections. To mobilize people to support president Trump and the candidates he was backing, the political trolls occasionally shared stories and photos of how Hispanics across the US also supported Trump and how Trump’s policies against illegal immigrants from Latin America were beneficial to the US. Political trolls were also savvy in using social media and managed to have real politicians participate in their discussions, and have very lengthy ongoing conversations with other citizens where they explain the political ecosystem as they saw it. Political trolls appeared to be quite effective in getting people interested in political discussion.
Our research highlightings there is gap between Hispanics and the midterm elections. There does not appear to be any group that is actively mobilizing Hispanics to vote without falling into extreme behaviors. We end our working paper discussing recommendations to counterattack and diminish the effects of disinformation targeting minorities. Such as: having NGOs adopt some of the strategies used by political trolls, such as investing time to explain to Hispanics the political ecosystem as these conversations currently appear to be missing in the discourse of the NGOs. You can read more about our research on political trolls in our new ICWSM paper or news reports on how political trolls operated in elections in the US, Mexico and France.
Saiph Savage is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Human Computer Interaction Lab, West Virginia University. She is currently conducting this research in collaboration with the DigIntel Lab at the Institute for the Future and will release a full report, ahead of the US midterm elections in November.