TWU researcher to study impact of COVID misinformation on Hispanics

headshot of Rigoberto Delgado

July 25, 2023 – DENTON – Although the numbers have narrowed, Hispanics in the United States were 1.7 times more likely to die from COVID than non-Hispanic people in age-adjusted data, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

There are social, economic and demographic factors that may have played a role in producing that statistic. As COVID-19 spread during the pandemic, so did inaccurate information about the virus and the vaccines. It’s unclear how social media messages affected people’s views toward COVID-19 and the vaccines. 

The fact is, little is known about the effect misleading information on COVID had on minority groups, particularly Hispanics. 

A professor at Texas Woman’s University is hoping to change that.

Rigoberto Delgado, PhD, an associate professor in health administration at TWU’s Houston campus, was awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May to measure the extent and effect of COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation among Hispanics and to provide data to design policies to combat misconceptions about the virus. 

The CDC defines misinformation as false information shared by people who do not intend to mislead others, while disinformation is false information deliberately created and disseminated with malicious intent. 

Delgado and his team will use advanced analytics methods to study social media data. The analysis will include social media messaging from El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. 

“Let’s identify those messages, the good, the bad or the middle and classify the misinformation and look at the impact of the messages,” Delgado said. 

The team will conduct focus groups to validate those messages, obtain in-depth data and estimate the risk and perception of COVID-19 emergencies. They will collaborate with a local community organization for assistance with recruiting participants. 

After quantifying an economic impact of the misinformation, they will also develop several algorithms to model the potential effect of selected strategies to mitigate disinformation and misinformation on COVID-19 vaccination.

Delgado’s research team is comprised of bilingual and bi-cultural specialists with extensive knowledge of the Hispanic population along the U.S.-Mexico Border. He is assisted on the study by TWU adjunct faculty member Rose Ramos, PhD, and Leopold Gemoets, PhD, an associate professor at the Woody L. Hunt College of Business at the University of Texas at El Paso. UTEP is a participating institution in the study.

The year-long project is taking place in El Paso, a border city that is 82 percent Hispanic. Delgado is very familiar with the western city on the Rio Grande. He worked at UTEP for several years and still has family in the area. 

“I understand the community very well and have a special connection to El Paso,” Delgado said. “I consider studying this region as a critical first step in understanding the health-seeking dynamic of the Hispanic community in the rest of Texas and the United States.”

While at UTEP, he secured several research grants, including one that supported the El Paso Department of Public Health with population analytics during the COVID pandemic. Delgado, whose expertise is in health economics and advanced population health analytics, helped identify pockets of the population that were at risk for COVID-19. 

His current project is an expansion of the UTEP study with a focus on social media and the Hispanic community. Delgado says he has made significant improvements that he hopes will result in the study being applied to the overall population.

“We are introducing specific markers that will help identify degrees of impact that specific messages have in a community according to cultural differences,” Delgado said. “Another important part is measuring the degree of influence that information originating in Mexico has on Hispanic populations in the U.S.” 

Delgado plans on applying for another grant and hopes to replicate the study to other cities and potentially have it serve as models for other countries. 

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Amy Ruggini
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Page last updated 11:02 AM, July 25, 2023