Back in 2018, Pérez-Verdía — a Democratic strategist who specializes in combating disinformation — saw a friend share a YouTube video in her group chat encouraging voters to learn more about "socialist Andrew Gillum" and "capitalist Ron DeSantis." It was the first time Pérez-Verdia, a Weston resident, can remember being on the receiving end of disinformation.
The message, which was sent by a well-respected community leader, was a wake-up call, but it helped Pérez-Verdía better understand how far-reaching the problem was in South Florida.
On Wednesday, Pérez-Verdía was among the speakers at a webinar hosted by the Hispanic Public Relations Association about the dangerous spread of political disinformation targeting Spanish speakers.
"One day, we'll allow the minds of our communities to be free of the psychological cancer that is spreading here in the United States," Pérez-Verdía said during the virtual event.
Speakers at the webinar discussed a recent report detailing the extent to which disinformation and falsehoods ran rampant on some of Miami's Spanish-speaking radio stations the week after the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The report was issued by the communications firm Prospero Latino and the progressive political organization Florida Rising.
According to the report, the four "most egregious" offenders spreading disinformation include three shows on the Univision-owned Radio Mambí (710 AM): Noticias with Nelson Rubio and Rodrigo Durán, En mi Opinión with Lourdes D' Kendall, and Ninoska en Mambí with Ninoska Pérez Castellón. The fourth is a show on Actualidad Radio (1040 AM) called Cada Tarde with Carines Moncada and Agustín Acosta.
As documented in the report, hosts and guests on those programs made a number of false and harmful claims the week following the insurrection: that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, that socialism and communism would replace democracy under the Biden administration, that "Chinese communists" were responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, and that Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar committed immigration fraud and married her brother.
Most shows on Miami Spanish-language talk radio lean right, experts noted during the webinar. When the topic of the insurrection was broached, for example, many hosts vehemently rejected the idea that it was coordinated by supporters of Donald Trump. Instead, they incorrectly asserted that antifa and the Black Lives Matter movement were involved.
"I refuse to accept that any of the individuals we saw there are genuinely people who support Donald Trump," Lourdes D' Kendall said on air during the week examined in the report.
The theme of communism also received big play, including by Carines Moncada, a Venezuelan radio host who has continually compared liberal policies to those of South American countries with a history of communist influence.
"This must come to an end because communism eats its own children," Moncada said during a Cada Tarde segment in January.
During the webinar, Prospero Latino CEO José Parra said disinformation spread via a source like Univision, which is thought of as reputable in the Spanish-speaking community, is particularly damaging for Latino voters in Miami.
"It's time to start calling out the corporate owners and sponsors who are lending their brands to legitimize garbage," Parra said. "I wonder what people in the C-suites of Univision are actually thinking in regards to what is being said over their airwaves."
But, Parra said, it's no secret in Miami that disinformation is being spread through Spanish-language media. In January, Latino groups in Florida wrote a letter demanding better fact-checking and accountability from Spanish-speaking journalists. And a scandal last year at the Miami Herald led to a shakeup in newsroom leadership after a reader pointed out that a weekly insert distributed in El Nuevo Herald contained disinformation, along with racist and anti-Semitic remarks.
Parra said the intention in creating the report was to have a record to prove the extent to which right-wing Miami radio programs have been weaponized to influence public opinion.
U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona, said during the webinar that he believes there is a misunderstanding in the Latino community surrounding the word "socialism," which can often be confused with the style of government in some Spanish-speaking countries. What is commonly thought of as a socialist government with an authoritarian regime is far different from the American left's so-called democratic socialism, which holds true to democratic principles.
"I'm sure a lot of people are afraid of the word 'socialism,'" he said. "But at the same time, these people are on Medicare or Social Security."
Andrea Mercado, co-executive director of Florida Rising, said going forward there needs to be a conscious effort to equip people with media literacy and the tools to expose disinformation.
"This is about creating public harm that has killed people," she said. "And I think that that's a message for Congress: This is really affecting our communities."