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‘Contextualizing Misinformation Flows’: Soto-Vásquez, Gonzalez publish pandemic-related work

‘Contextualizing Misinformation Flows’

Soto-Vásquez, Gonzalez publish pandemic-related work

By Jennifer Castillo
Bridge contributing writer

Published Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021

When major world events occur, smart researchers tend to shift gears to take advantage of these rare and timely opportunities. The pandemic is no exception.

On Dec. 23, 2020, Assistant Professors of communication Arthur Soto-Vásquez and Ariadne A. Gonzalez were two members of a team of researchers who published a research article in the Howard Journal of Communications titled “COVID-19: Contextualizing Misinformation Flows In a US Latinx Border Community (Media and Communication During COVID-19).” They worked along with Assistant Professors Wanzhu Shi and Nilda Garcia, plus Jessica Hernandez.

Assistant Professor Arthur Soto-Vasquez
Assistant Professor
Arthur Soto-Vásquez

Soto-Vásquez’s current research consists of esports on the border; other research interests include Latinx communication studies, political communication, digital media studies, qualitative research methods, popular culture studies and social media. He maintains a personal website called “Arthur D Soto Vásquez,” where site visitors can read more about him, his publications, media and visit his blog.

Gonzalez’s current research focuses on immigrants as participants: data collection challenges, Latinos patrolling the Texas-Mexico border and Mujeres trabajadoras: Reexamining the roles of wife, mother and immigrant worker. Her research interests include occupational identity, dirty work, qualitative methods, work-life, immigration and border studies. Gonzalez was unavailable for comments due to technical issues but mentioned she was working on new research in the spring that is about COVID-19 and nurses.

Assistant Professor Ari Gonzalez
Assistant Professor
Ariadne A. Gonzalez

Both Soto-Vásquez and Gonzalez worked with their colleagues at TAMIU to publish the research. Their study looks at how misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic travels along the US-Mexico border. In their article, it cites reasons including “local Latinx border practices and cultural constructs, such as chisme, and a cultural skepticism.”

“There is something really powerful, I think, about working with others in terms of research ‘cause they catch things you don’t see,” Soto-Vásquez said. “They ask the tough questions and bring in their own expertise—like Dr. Gonzalez really knows how to do focus groups well.”

The topic originated from faculty observations, he said.

“Early COVID time, we were seeing the effects of misinformation,” he said. “There is a lot of discussion in my field of communication about, ‘What do we do about misinformation?’ ‘What role does social media play in regards to containing it?’ What we didn’t see were two things, maybe three: how PoC groups—people of color groups—responded to misinformation. We wanted to take advantage of the fact that we are on the border, and we had faculty [here] interested … in this study.”

He continued, saying that secondly not all of the misinformation was harmful.

“Like those posts that said, ‘If you could take a deep breath in and breathe out, you don’t have COVID,’” Soto-Vásquez said. “So we were kinda interested in that kind of stuff and how just people responded to it in their everyday lives.

“Third thing, I would say, is, ‘What do we do with misinformation?’ and ‘How do we correct it online?’ One of the things that came out in the focus groups was that sometimes people don’t respond online—they respond offline.”

Following the guidelines the Centers for Disease Control put into place for social distancing, Soto-Vásquez and Gonzalez conducted their research via Zoom.

“You know, I thought it was going to be a struggle but I think it ended up being a little bit more convenient,” he said. “Adding the Zoom added a lot of flexibility. It was a pretty seamless project.”

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