Meta’s WhatsApp is a communication tool of growing general importance in the United States and is already very popular with diasporic and immigrant communities in the country. The platform facilitates private conversations in 1:1 chats and small groups, but is particularly known for its encryption, group chats, and use of phone numbers as identity markers – all of which make it distinct from conventional social media platforms. On WhatsApp, as in other digital information spaces, false information can spread quickly, easily, and broadly. But app users and platform operators have comparatively limited means to address and intervene as misleading or harmful content spreads.
WhatsApp is also becoming crucial for political communication in the United States. It is regarded as a particularly useful tool for reaching diasporic communities and communities of color, which many U.S. campaigns see as important and persuadable parts of the electorate. Our research and recent reporting suggest that these communities face rising levels of propaganda and disinformation on the platform. But how do various forms of false information permeate WhatsApp? What kinds of inaccurate content and propaganda spread with success? Critically, how do diasporic communities experience these informational issues? Little research thus far has centered the voices of diasporic communities themselves in regard to how they are affected by dis- and misinformation, a void that our report seeks to fill.
Between April and June 2022, the Center for Media Engagement’s Propaganda Research Lab fielded a survey in the United States exploring these, and related, questions. We asked 1,544 adult WhatsApp users to answer questions about their perceptions of the platform; their news and information consumption behaviors; and their encounters with false information. In the following pages, we present rare survey data about WhatsApp pertaining to three specific sub-groups: Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, and Indian Americans. We surveyed these communities because they use WhatsApp frequently, and because they constitute communities making up some of the largest populations of immigrants among eligible U.S. voters.