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‘Verdad o Ficción’: La Jolla youth librarian and speakers panel team up to combat misinformation in Spanish

Andrea Lopez-Villafana, Saddam Aguayo, Regina Yurrita, Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra (with microphone) and Jose Ysea
Andrea Lopez-Villafana, managing editor of Voice of San Diego; Saddam Aguayo, a reporter for Univision; Regina Yurrita, a CBS8 reporter; Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra, a UC San Diego sociology professor (with microphone); and Jose Ysea, city of San Diego media services manager, participate in the first of a series of panel discussions intended to combat misinformation in Spanish.
(Katia Graham)

The San Diego Public Library and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists are taking on misinformation spread in Spanish.

A three-session series of public presentations, delivered in Spanish and called “Verdad o Ficción” (“Fact or Fiction”), is spearheaded by La Jolla/Riford Library youth services librarian Katia Graham. It features local broadcast reporters, San Diego city employees and local professors, including Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra, an associate sociology professor at UC San Diego.

The first two presentations were held April 26 at the Logan Heights branch library and May 7 at the San Diego Central Library. The third will begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 17, at the San Ysidro Library, 4235 Beyer Blvd.

Each panel discussion, assembled by a team including Graham and Oscar Gittemeir, San Diego Public Library program manager for innovation and community engagement, discusses what Graham said is a “crisis … the public needs to know about.”

The panelists talk about the dangers of misinformation and steps to combat it.

Graham, who is of Salvadoran descent and is fluent in Spanish, said “Latinos consume the majority of their news on social media platforms. Unfortunately, the news out there isn’t always reliable.”

She said Spanish misinformation isn’t flagged on social media sites as often as it is in English.

Pardo-Guerra said “there’s quite a bit of disinformation and misinformation going around, particularly in the Latinx community.”

One particular example shows how dangerous misinformation can be, he said.

“The amount of information that is … misleading around COVID has been huge over the last two years,” he said. “And sometimes, telling whether the source is trustworthy is actually quite difficult because sometimes it’s the government itself which is providing misinformation.”

In early 2021 in Mexico City, he said, government officials gave the drug ivermectin to about 200,000 people to treat COVID-19, “based on some preliminary potential evidence on the efficacy of ivermectin to treat COVID-19.”

Ivermectin has not been shown to be effective against COVID-19, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and can be dangerous if taken in large doses or if humans use the form of the drug intended for animals.

When the officials in Mexico were criticized in the local press, “they wrote very scientific-like papers … published in an online platform that is used by scientists to share the work,” Pardo-Guerra said.

“The analysis was incorrect,” he said. “The assumptions on which it was based were problematic, and it was difficult for someone who doesn’t have medical knowledge or who doesn’t have statistical knowledge to evaluate whether that was true or false.”

“Latinos consume the majority of their news on social media platforms. Unfortunately, the news out there isn’t always reliable.”

— Katia Graham, La Jolla/Riford Library youth services librarian

Pardo-Guerra said he advises those who are seeking to verify information to check to make sure “the source doesn’t have anything at stake in the sense that there’s no conflict of interest between those who are reporting and what they’re reporting on.”

In the case of the Mexico City officials, he said, “there were some telling signs around the sort of interests behind the [reporting] paper, where it was published, how they were talking about those results in public as a way of justifying this intervention.”

A second step, Pardo-Guerra said, is to consume news “quite broadly so that we get a sense of who might be trying to sell this because it’s a story that generates clicks rather than because it’s a story that might be of public interest.”

Graham, who introduced the first session’s panel and will do the same May 17, said it made sense for the Public Library, as a “pioneer in media literacy,” to offer the sessions to address the issue.

The panelists are “incredible people who are media experts and aware of the problem and give information to help,” she said.

“Having a space to share strategies on how to identify trustworthy sources of information and how to vet the information that we consume” is important, Pardo-Guerra said.

Graham said the team effort has been “a long time in the making” and added, “We want to do more.” ◆