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Combating Fear And Disinformation Regarding The 2020 Census

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A false message aimed at black people went viral across Facebook feeds this past week. It told African Americans to beware the 2020 census. The post warned that their personal information would be shared with the government. That misleading post has since been taken down, but it tapped into a real concern among the black community.

Jeri Green is a senior census adviser at the National Urban League, and we brought her in to talk about this. Welcome to the program.

JERI GREEN: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you probably haven't seen that particular Facebook post, but to be clear, personal information from the census is not shared with the government.

GREEN: Absolutely not. Your answers are kept anonymous. They're only used to produce statistics. And the Census Bureau is bound by law - Title 13, U.S. code - to keep those responses strictly confidential.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is a real worry for black people, right? Why is it a concern? Why are these privacy issues a particular issue?

GREEN: You know, the Census Bureau conducted a study to find out what the barriers are within our communities, across communities - black, brown, Asian. And African Americans in particular had the greatest amount of fear about the census. And there's fear that the Census Bureau might share your information with law enforcement officials or parole officers. It's just that we're on the periphery of society. We're holding on. And every day, you know - sometimes in our communities, we feel that our grasp on, you know, what everybody else wants in life is more and more threatened. So why share that information?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is there a lot of disinformation around the census? Do you see that?

GREEN: Yes, we do. We've already seen the Republican Party use the census as a fundraising tool and put out a false and misleading census questionnaire to fundraise. And we do believe that we're going to see more of it - more disinformation, more misinformation about the census.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what are the solutions being put in place to combat this? I mean, what are you doing? And also, what is the Census Bureau doing, if anything?

GREEN: Well, the Census Bureau has put up a disinformation page. But we are - we have a coalition of census stakeholders. All of us are fighting disinformation. And we're - what we have to do is educate our community about the importance of the census, how it impacts every day of their lives for the next 10 years and how our communities will have to live with the results. If we don't show up, we're invisible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jeri Green is a senior census adviser at the National Urban League. Thank you so much.

GREEN: You're welcome. Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The National Urban League is hosting a national teleconference on March 10 to discuss the 2020 census. You can find out more at makeblackcount.org.

[POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: In this story, we characterize the Facebook post as having gone "viral." We have been unable to verify the actual reach of the post.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: March 18, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
In this story, we characterize the Facebook post as having gone "viral." We have been unable to verify the actual reach of the post.