Talking to a loved one who is spreading misinformation or conspiracy theories
The coronavirus outbreak sparked what the WHO described as an “infodemic”, with Dr Mike Ryan calling for “a vaccine against false information”. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine against false information. But, just as we have adopted new behaviours to limit the spread of Covid-19, there are some media literacy behaviours that we can adopt to limit the spread of false information.
But what about when a loved one is sharing false information? It’s difficult, but don’t brush it off. They may think the false information is true and they might believe it’s important to share it. That makes it hard to start a conversation, but the first step is deciding to address it.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula, but there are a few tips that might help.
Do some research: Before talking to someone, do some research yourself and be informed about the topic. Verify that the information is false before you start a conversation and try to understand the explanation for why it is false. For example, the Be Media Smart website has up-to-date links to fact-checks and reliable information.
Find a suitable time: Consider whether the person is open to a discussion. If so, find a suitable time and place where you can have a conversation.
Keep it conversational: No one wants to be lectured at so ask questions and listen to what the person has to say. Listening is key to having a meaningful conversation. Encourage critical reflection by asking questions about the person’s concerns and the credibility of their information sources. For example, ask them to think about the motives of those who create anti-vaccine messages.
Emphasise accurate information: Try to steer the person towards reliable information sources. For example, encourage them to follow reliable sources on social media and offer them resources to fact-check what they see online.
Be empathic: Validate the concerns and anxieties they are feeling. You can be calm and empathetic while disagreeing with their beliefs and refuting false information. Try to relate on an emotional and personal level.
Avoid escalation: If the conversation is not going well, remember that it is difficult to hear that your beliefs and opinions are wrong. The goal is to convey accurate information and promote reflection in a calm way – not make people mad or prove that you’re right and somebody else is wrong.
Give it time:People form opinions and beliefs for complex reasons and you can’t expect people to suddenly change their minds just because you have presented the evidence. So give it time and be prepared to provide empathy and support over the long-term.
In the meantime, practice good information hygiene yourself. The Be Media Smart message is to Stop, Think, and Check where your information is coming from. If in doubt, do not hit like or share.
If you come across disinformation about vaccines on social media, report the posts to the platforms. For example, Facebook and Twitterprovide simple instructions for reporting content. Engaging with disinformation – even leaving a negative comment – may only help it spread further. If you do want to respond, post fact-checks and link to reliable information sources.