For some in Latin America, the info ecosystem has always been hostile 

Barbara Paes

Since November 2023, we’ve been conducting research on strengthening information ecosystems in Latin America and the Caribbean. In that process, something that has been shared many times by practitioners from all over the region is the notion that information ecosystems have always been harmful to certain communities and, consequently, that efforts to make it stronger need to address this longstanding reality.

In this project, we’ve been employing an ecosystem approach, which has been used by many to convey the interconnectedness of the different parts of the information ecosystem and to encourage more holistic and strategic interventions

As we make use of this approach to describe the complex ways in which information is produced, shared and disseminated and how this impacts different actors, the experts we’ve engaged in interviews and community calls have consistently reminded us that the information ecosystems in the region are “imbalanced”, that they have been like this for a while and it’s not just in relation to digital technologies. 

As we make our way through our research, we thought we’d share some of our reflections about this issue in this blog post – if you’re interested in learning more, keep an eye on our blog for our complete report of findings in a few months! 

This is not (just) about tech: information ecosystems in disequilibrium 

In our interviews with organisers, journalists, communicators and campaigners, many have pointed out that the imbalanced nature of information ecosystems in Latin America and the Caribbean has always been the norm, with its ‘brokenness’ not being new nor exclusively linked to information technologies. 

Though digital technologies undoubtedly have a role to play in the current shape of information ecosystems in Latin America and the Caribbean, the practitioners we’ve been talking to have highlighted how for many people in the region, especially those who are part of historically oppressed and marginalised groups, the information ecosystem has always been hostile. 

For example, when talking about misinformation in Brazil, researcher and communicator Catarina De Angola explains that, in her view, this isn’t a new phenomenon, but rather “the official history of [the country]”, describing how media and academia have always built and disseminated stories that “dehumanise non-white and transgender existences.” 

A similar pattern can be identified throughout the region, where in many countries indigenous communities and afrolatino communities have fought to preserve their memories and combat stigma and exclusion fueled by stereotypes and racist tropes perpetuated throughout the information ecosystems. For example, an analysis of journalistic articles in Argentina shows that media coverage in the country has contributed to reinforcement of stereotypes and prejudices about indigenous people; in Brazil, researchers have described how Black people are still underrepresented in mainstream media and that it continues to reinforce racial stereotypes; and in Colombia, too, experts have pointed out that racism in media coverage has persisted.  

The harmful nature of information ecosystems has also meant that people from historically oppressed groups have faced criminalisation and censorship, and have had limited opportunity to be producers of information that is widely disseminated. In Brazil, for instance, where 54% of the population identifies as Afro-Brazilian, in 2015 only 22% of journalists were of afro descent. In Mexico, a survey of journalists in the country showed that only 3% of participants identified as indigenous, though a little over 19% of the country’s population is indigenous. In Colombia, civil society organisations have called for more participation of afrocolombianos in the media. 

And those who are working as journalists or communicators, or who have public voices, often face violence and threats, which can be even worse for certain groups, like women journalists in general, LGBTQ+ communicators and activists, indigenous women journalists, Black women journalists, to name a few.

The challenges persist when we’re talking about access to information, too. In our research, the fact that many people throughout the region face significant obstacles in exercising their right to information has come up as another way in which the information ecosystems in LAC are imbalanced. In other words, the existence of “information deserts” throughout the region and the difficulty that people face in accessing information have been described as elements of unhealthy information ecosystems in the region.

Ultimately, when we talk about the state of the information ecosystem with practitioners, they are quick to point out it has been historically filled with machismo, misogyny, racism, classism and ableism and that, as a result, some groups have had their histories erased, racist perceptions about their existence and their peoples perpetuated, access to information denied and their voices silenced. Our interviews and exchanges with practitioners have highlighted that in order to repair the information ecosystem these underlying structural issues must be taken into account. 

So what does this mean for efforts to strengthen the information ecosystem? 

With all of this in mind, when thinking about building a healthier, stronger information ecosystem two crucial questions have come up in our research: whose information needs to be prioritised? And what types of approaches need to be strengthened? 

To that effect, a common thread we’ve been seeing in our research is the notion that the information ecosystems should be “restored” from the citizens’ points of view. For many of the practitioners and experts we’re talking to, the key to having a booming, healthier and more robust information ecosystem lies in ensuring that it effectively addresses the most immediate information needs of people, especially those who have been historically oppressed and marginalised.

Practitioners and researchers have indicated that a few pathways must be taken to make the vision of a stronger information ecosystem come to fruition. This includes the idea that a healthy, robust information ecosystem needs a diversity of actors coexisting in it. 

Multiple interviewees have talked about how funding and resources need to be made available to a broader number of organisations based in various geographies and from different backgrounds and who play different roles in the information ecosystem. One expert working in Central America, for instance, talked about how funders need to “tackle multiple sides of the problem” to really foster the health of the information ecosystem, supporting multiple actors who are working for a stronger ecosystem with different strategies and from different standpoints. In our conversation, they defended the idea that not integrating certain voices, like “community journalists” and “voices that are not from the middle class”, the information ecosystem is missing out.

In our interviews for this project, there has also been a clear call for supporting local, community-driven initiatives that address people’s information needs and help them recover a sense of community and belonging. Interviewees specifically talk about how people in the region are impacted by “information deserts” and about how there needs to be more information available “on a micro-level” – information about what is going on in their cities and neighbourhoods and information about how to exercise basic human rights, such as how to access healthcare in their town or the latest change in the local education system. 

In that sense, many practitioners have also pointed out that there needs to be more funding and support available to actors who are from the communities who are impacted by the imbalanced nature of information ecosystems in Latin America and the Caribbean. These are actors who are often better equipped to understand communities’ information needs and to identify and implement effective strategies to improve their local information ecosystem, and at the same time, these people and institutions often struggle to access funding and resources, due to a variety of issues ––from lack of connections and knowledge of the funding landscape, to bureaucratic obstacles. 

Crucially, participants in our research have made a point of highlighting how the safety of popular communicators and journalists needs to be prioritised, especially that of women and people covering environment and climate. As they fight to investigate, report, inform, these groups  are on the receiving end of threats and attacks, to both their physical and digital integrity, and they need support in staying safe and mitigating these vulnerabilities if we want better information ecosystems. 

Over the next few months, our team will continue to work on this research and explore the many strategies that can be used to support the vision of a healthy, robust information ecosystem in Latin America and the Caribbean. We plan on sharing a final report of findings by June. In the meantime, you can learn more about this project in the links below: 

And in case your organisation is interested in getting free tech and data support from our team, make sure to reach out