Information Futures Lab and We Are Más partner with Hispanic communities in South Florida, finding critical questions and information inequities but also tangible solutions to the information crisis 

Providence, RI and Miami, FL – In a democracy, people rely on accurate, credible information to make critical decisions about their lives. But in the United States, availability of and access to such information are not distributed evenly, leaving disadvantaged communities especially vulnerable to the tactics of disinformation, a pilot project by the Information Futures Lab at Brown University and its South Florida-based partner We Are Más shows. 

“Here we are, in a heated primary cycle rich in polarizing messaging from competing presidential candidates, and our information spaces are largely not supporting the basic information needs of key communities, opening the doors wide for manipulation and exploitation,” said Stefanie Friedhoff, co-director of the Information Futures Lab and a Professor of the Practice at the Brown School of Public Health.

“The U.S. is a nation of immigrants and yet our current communication infrastructure is not made for diversity. It is tilted toward those who can afford to pay for journalism, are educated, have digital, media, science and financial literacy, and who understand how key systems such as healthcare and politics work. If you are not these things and are looking for essential information or trying to verify something you’ve heard, good luck.”  

“This pilot project put evidence to what many of us in Hispanic communities know from experience: It is incredibly hard to get answers to our questions and figure out what’s true,” said Evelyn Pérez-Verdía, Founder of We Are Más (We Are More).

“Too often good information is not accessible to us, while bad information is everywhere. Those who are targeting Hispanic communities with misinformation understand all too well the importance of our accents, cultures and stories. To foster civic engagement and build resilience, we need to be much more intentional in how we inform our incredibly diverse communities.” 

As election laws keep shifting, 2024 presidential hopefuls are changing course and disinformation intended to confuse and distract people is ramping up rapidly, the pilot project delivers key insights about how evolving information gaps breed misinformation vulnerabilities and how to better support people in making sense of chaotic information environments. 

Tracking the hyperlocal impact of disinformation

  • Over six weeks in November and December 2023, the Information Futures Lab and We Are Más collaborated with 25 leaders in Hispanic diaspora communities in South Florida on capturing and responding to evolving questions and concerns of community members. 
  • Every week, the 25 Information Navigators submitted questions, concerns and rumors from the community, revealing significant information gaps ranging from “How do I get a mammogram when I am underinsured?” to “How are we going to confront the floods?” to “How much can a landlord raise the rent in Florida?” The submissions also revealed the hyperlocal impact of ongoing disinformation activities through questions such as “How are people handling the severe side effects of getting a fourth Covid shot?” and “Climate change may be real but it is not caused by humans.” Questions such as “Is the 2024 election still happening?” and rumors like “Alexa says there will be no election in 2024” indicate that voter suppression campaigns were likely already underway in late 2023. 
  • In efforts to locate existing answers to such questions, the project team also found that most of the time, relevant information was not available in the right language, lacked cultural cues and context, required digital literacy and access, was not delivered at the appropriate literacy level, was behind a paywall, was outdated, was not present in places where people look for information, or didn’t come from a trusted source.    

A new approach to informing diverse communities

To overcome such barriers, the project team of journalists and communications specialists from We Are Más and the Information Futures Lab produced brief, shareable content responding to top community questions every week. By consulting existing evidence as well as local and content matter experts, applying communications and behavioral sciences best practices, and checking all content for language and cultural fit, the team developed a novel way to equip trusted community members with hyperlocal, accurate messages that are easy to further adapt and share on messaging apps, social media sites and in conversations with community members. The project team also produced a Tip Of The Week to build capacities such as active listening and how to identify manipulated images or fake science. (Content was produced in text, audio and video formats in both Spanish and English.) 

More than 75 percent of the participating community leaders felt comfortable forwarding the content directly to others and found it more culturally appropriate than what is available via other sources. 

“I found the information that was provided very helpful,” said Ana Valladares, CEO of the South Florida nonprofit organization Mujeres Latinas Empowering Women. “A lot of us in the nonprofit sector need these tools so we can go and give feedback. A lot of what we hear is from immigrants who are new to the country and need help navigating things. No matter how long they are here, or if they can vote or not, they still have questions; they don’t know how the system works. We need to continue this work and expand it.”  

Building on the pilot, made possible with generous funding from the Miami Foundation, the Information Futures Lab is currently fundraising to expand the new model and collaborate with trusted leaders in at least 10 communities across the U.S. that are of strategic importance to the presidential election and expected to be targeted with high levels of disinformation.  

“It is time we flip the model. Community leaders are on the frontlines of how the information crisis is impacting people and their ability to obtain, make sense of and act on information. So they need to be on the frontlines of the response as well,” said Claire Wardle, co-director of the Information Futures Lab and a Professor of the Practice at the Brown School of Public Health.

“Our pilot shows that if we invest in and collaborate with communities, we can build an early warning system to identify relevant information gaps and the impact of disinformation. And in partnership with communities, we can also create a new, bottom-up communications infrastructure that feeds trusted quality content into spaces where people spend their time, like closed social media groups and messaging apps, but also beauty salons and youth clubs.” 

In a new White Paper, the Information Futures Lab and We Are Más detail the approach, data insights and key findings of the South Florida pilot.  

What South Florida partners say about participating in The Information Project

“Understanding and addressing the information needs of our community is crucial to reduce false and misleading narratives. It is imperative to bring information literacy to the forefront. Thanks to Brown University and We Are Más for this timely program.” Luz Angela Ventura l Director, United Way of Broward County Commission on Behavioral Health and Drug Prevention

“Participating in this important project with Brown University and We are Mas was an illuminating experience both in terms of what we learned from our community members and about ourselves as an agency.  It gave us the opportunity to communicate directly with our clients to listen to their concerns and challenges.  We were also able to combat the misinformation in the community with well researched responses from credible sources.  Internally, we appreciated the importance of putting our ears to the ground and really listening to the community’s pressing needs.  I know it will motivate us to be an even more responsive organization than we are already.” Josê Flipo, Vice President of Community Programs, YWCA South Florida

“Participating in the project allowed us to listen to what the families we serve and their communities are thinking. This experience has fueled our commitment to better address the needs of the individuals we serve and provide reliable information in a culturally appropriate and sensitive manner.” Juliana Esguerra – Director of Evaluation and Innovation, Hispanic Unity of Florida

“In Factchequeado, we believe in collaborative work as the best way to address misinformation, and this effort was proof of that. We could see how old conspiracy theories, such as those related to vaccines and alleged microchips, as well as health service topics like Obamacare and Medicare, continue to highlight informational gaps that need attention. Only together can we make it effective and ensure that the message reaches the audience we intend.” Tamoa Calzadilla, Editor in Chief, Factchequeado 


Contact for English inquiries:
Stefanie Friedhoff, Co-Director, Information Futures Lab 

Contact for Spanish inquiries:
Evelyn Pérez-Verdía, Founder, We Are Más 

About We are Más
We are Más (WAM) is a South Florida-based social impact organization specializing in culturally competent, hyperlocal engagement with diaspora groups in Hispanic, English- and Spanish-speaking communities. Working with a variety of purpose-driven organizations across the public, private and third sectors, including academic institutions, We are Más combines listening and an active local presence with research and strategic communications to support partners in connecting deeply with communities in diverse places such as South Florida, Texas and other Hispanic communities across the U.S. 

About the Information Futures Lab
Founded in 2022, the Information Futures Lab (IFL) at Brown University is a new type of university hub. Students and researchers work alongside community organizations, journalists, civic society leaders, and other sources of trusted information to envision a better future for our information spaces. Together, we improve local information ecosystems and support diverse populations in effectively accessing, creating and making sense of information that is crucial to their well-being.