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Finding the Immigrant Story

Latinx encounters with immigration stories in the US media

By United We Dream Action and Harmony Labs

United We Dream Action (UWDA) is the largest immigrant youth-led network in the United States with a goal of creating a political and organizing home for Latinx people and immigrants broadly to enact the changes our communities need and deserve, while advancing a vision of racial and immigrant justice. Since its founding, UWDA has been dedicated to broadening the story of who immigrants are, looking to push the bounds of public perception about immigrants, placing immigrants front and center, and taking back the power to make change. UWDA sees the anti-immigrant movement as disinformation, one that creates false narratives about immigrants and spread lies to push racist and dehumanizing policies that separate families, deny people the full rights of citizenship, and funnel billions of dollars into harmful enforcement agencies to detain and deport our friends, families, and neighbors.

UWDA partnered with Harmony Labs to answer a key question: how are young Latinx people encountering stories about immigration in U.S. media? For this work, Harmony Labs analyzed the content that Latinx audiences are currently consuming, using opt-in internet and television panel data between January 1, 2021 and August 31, 2021, touching 300,000+ people in the U.S. across TV, online news, online search, and YouTube.

This work will inform communication strategies for practitioners working in pro-immigration advocacy. By identifying real media that audiences engage with and the real opportunities that exist within them, from placement to messaging to influencers, we can tell more effective stories in the places that matter. We are excited to make our findings available in this new public report.

High-level profiles

Our analysis looked at where audiences are in culture (content types, influential voices, brands), how they engage with stories about immigrants and immigration, and what story opportunities and threats exist to effectively engage Latinx individuals around issues of immigration. UWDA identified young Latinx aged 18–35 as their point of focus, and to address this audience, we segmented the audience into three demographic groups:

  1. Latinx men and women 36+
  2. Latinx women 18–35
  3. Latinx men 18–35

We looked at different platforms (TV, online news, online search, and YouTube) and were able to create unique pictures of where and how these three audience segments engage differently with media and common patterns across different platforms. In particular, YouTube, which is viewed by 70% of Americans every day, provided an opportunity to cluster similar channels together, telling us more about both the content itself and the audiences with the highest reach inside of them.

From these higher-level portraits of people’s broad cultural interests, we were able to understand which audiences were encountering potentially polarizing and anti-immigration stories — and where.

Latinx Men and Women 36+: Practical & Tuned-In

Media Profile: An age group that includes millennials, online behavior for the 36+ age bracket typically includes an emphasis on watching news, shopping deals, travel, and home repair.

Immigration Content: The audience most likely to encounter polarizing and anti-immigration stories are Latinx ages 36+, especially Latinx men aged 36+. They encounter these stories primarily through right-wing news, especially on TV, where they are seeing the highest number of immigration stories from sources like OAN News and Fox and Friends, and on YouTube, where they are the largest occupants of the News and “Docutainment” clusters.

Latinx Women 18–35: Caring & Community-driven

Media Profile: Latinx women under 35 engage more with a wide variety of cultural channels. More than any other audience group, they use TV and film to interrogate the complexity of human relationships,

Immigration Content: Latinx women aged 18–35 are most likely to seek out stories about immigrants, not just immigration, in a way that closely aligns to United We Dream Action’s narrative goals. They are most likely to encounter these stories in their entertainment choices, particularly TV. They are also searching for information about immigration and the immigrant experience, frequently looking to learn about the health and well-being of immigrants, as well as the best law schools for immigration law.

Latinx Men 18–35: Entrepreneurial & Individualistic

Media Profile: Latinx men under 35 inhabit a very insular, virtual world, spending a huge proportion of their time online engaging with fantasy and gaming. When they engage with the broader world, it’s often through humor and goofiness. Philip DeFranco, Joe Rogan, and Mr. Beast are “political” voices with high reach in this group. Overall, this age group is interested in entrepreneurialism and a “hustle” mentality, especially related to issues that affect them personally. This interest was seen in two particular news stories heavily consumed by young men: GameStop and COVID-related school closures.

Immigration Content: Latinx men aged 18–35 men aren’t consuming much media about immigration or immigrants, and when they are, it’s incidental and rarely anti-immigration or anti-immigrant. When their major influencers, including Philip DeFranco and Joe Rogan, do speak about immigration, they usually lean towards pro-immigrant language. This content vacuum, however, puts them at risk of passively consuming anti-immigrant content as bystanders.

Immigration vs Immigrants

A key insight we found very early on in this research was identifying types of stories in the landscape, separated by (sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle) differences in story subject, language used, and “target” audience. Immigration-related content online can be divided into two major categories: stories about immigration and stories about immigrants.

Immigration stories are about immigration systems, including patterns, rules, and enforcement.

Immigrant stories are about individuals and their culture, heritage, and experiences of being from one country and living in another.

This difference is a primary feature of the media landscape for immigration, one that helps make explicit how different stories can exist from starkly different intentions, causing starkly different impacts. Latinx women under 35, for instance, are most likely to seek out stories about immigrants, not just immigration. These “human” forward stories focus on people and their experiences, as well as the overall well-being of the immigrant community. These stories are read by the base audience for pro-immigration content, signaling a type of story that should be told if we are to redirect audiences toward a pro-immigrant narrative.

Where do we go from here?

To introduce young men to a cultural landscape with immigrant experience stories, communicators on this topic should look to expand the reach of pro-immigrant content that speaks to the experiences of immigrants and their lives. A key next step is to place this content in spaces currently devoid of this conversation where young Latinx men are currently consuming media, pulling the focus from news and policy, or from fun, virtual worlds, and moving it toward experiences and interpersonal stories of immigrants themselves.

The majority of United We Dream’s membership is young Latinx women, and the fact that this group is most engaged in stories about immigrants is a testament to their narrative building. It’s also clear that older Latinx audiences are consuming the most anti-immigrant content, and as such, UWDA plans on expanding efforts to reach these audiences through their Reclaim The Web program on Whatsapp.

One of the notable gaps in this work is the content vacuum that exists for young Latinx men. This vacuum of immigrant content along with their concerns about the economy, and penchant for individualism, make them easy targets for racialized disinformation about the role of immigrants in this country.

For UWDA, they see this research as showing how urgently needed their work is, as creators of culturally relevant content, to intervene and to fight back against racialized disinformation and the radicalization of young Latinx men that can occur in this content vacuum by bad actors. Given the susceptibility of this specific audience, UWDA plans to further authentically engage with this audience both politically and culturally, using this analysis to better engage a growing demographic. UWDA will be applying these learnings into content and anti-disinformation programming to better engage this growing audience, meeting this audience where they are, and experimenting with key influencers and content in the gaming community.

About United We Dream Action
United We Dream Action (UWDA) is the largest immigrant youth-led community in the country. We create welcoming spaces for young people — regardless of immigration status — to support, engage, and empower them to make their voice heard and win! Whether organizing in the streets, building cutting edge technology systems, opening doors for LGBTQ immigrant youth, clearing pathways to education, stopping deportations or creating alliances across social movements, United We Dream puts undocumented immigrant youth in the driver’s seat to strategize, innovate and win.

About Harmony Labs
Harmony Labs is a 501c(3) non-profit on a mission to create a world where media systems support democratic culture and healthy, happy people. We’ve been doing audience, narrative, and story analysis for more than a decade, helping storytellers channel the immense power of story to shape the future. With the Narrative Observatory project, for the first time ever, we’re harnessing powerful industry relationships and an academic research network to develop data infrastructure purpose-built to identify and track narratives and story opportunities ,and to learn about audiences across platforms.

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