You were afraid that moment would come.
As you ask your uncle to pass you the ham, he coincidentally mentions that a coronavirus vaccine will inject microchips into our bodies in order to track us down.
Or your brother-in-law, after a few beers, says that covid-19 is nothing more than a “little flu.”
The probability that you will find yourself in situations like these in the next few days is not negligible.
Experts continue to recommend avoiding crowds due to covid-19. However, despite the obvious risks, many families plan to celebrate Christmas with a face-to-face meeting.
But whether in virtual or face-to-face meetings, how do you discuss fake news and conspiracy theories without ruining the party?
1) keep calm
While it’s important to question fake news, it’s no use doing so if it all ends in a heated argument.
“My number one rule is not to spoil Christmas“says British science book author Mick West.” An angry and risqué conversation will make everyone feel bad and will further contribute to consolidating conspiracy beliefs. “
Psychologist Jovan Byford, a professor at the Open University, notes that conspiracy theories often have a strong emotional dimension.
“It is not just about right or wrong,” he says, “but is based on resentment, anger and outrage at how the world works.”
These theories grew in 2020 due to the search for explanations to the pandemic, the American elections and the great world events.
Catherine from the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England understands this from her own experience.
This 38-year-old British woman firmly believed in conspiracy theories that vaccines were deliberately used to harm people. But he changed his mind.
“It is extremely important to remain calm at all times,” he says. “The person you are talking to is usually as passionate as you are about their own beliefs and will defend them to the grave.”
And remember: virologists claim that the screams increase thes chances of spreading coronavirus.
Another good reason for the conversation to be quiet.
2) Do not belittle your interlocutor
“Talk to your friends and family with empathy instead of sarcasm,” says Claire Wardle of First Draft, a non-profit organization that fights disinformation. “Listen patiently to what other people have to say.”
The golden rule is: never publicly embarrass someone for their opinions. It is likely that if you do the shot will backfire. “If you decide to discuss conspiracy theories, don’t belittle the other person’s beliefs,” Byford agrees. “Establish some kind of consensus“.
Remember that people tend to believe in conspiracy theories because deep down, they are worried or anxious. Try to understand these feelingsEspecially in a year like this.
3) Encourage critical thinking
People who believe in conspiracy theories often say, “I do my own research.”
The problem is, your search tends to be restricted to obscure YouTube videos, randomly following people on Facebook, and selecting evidence of biased Twitter accounts.
But the skeptical spirit that permeates online conspiracy sites can pave the way for rational thinking, Byford says.
“Many individuals who believe in conspiracy theories consider themselves suspicious and self-taught investigators on complex topics,” he says. “Highlight that as something that, in principle, you value and share“.
“Your goal is not to make your interlocutors less curious or skeptical, but to change what they are curious or skeptical about.”
This is what helped Phil from Belfast, who believed in the 9/11 conspiracies.
“I used to point out that there were several experts who doubted the official stories. That was very convincing to me,” he explains. “Why would these experts lie?”
But then Phil began to apply skepticism not only to “official sources”, but also to alternative “experts.”
Phil developed a deeper understanding of the scientific method and skepticism itself. Just because an expert believes in something does not mean that it is true.
“You can find experts and very smart people who support any position,” he says.
“Ask yourself who is promoting these ideas and what their intentions are,” says Claire Wardle. “For example, if those people make some financial profit from selling health supplements or become more famous by getting more followers.”
4) ask questions
Data verification is important, but it is often not the most effective approach when someone passionately believes in conspiracies. Questions are much more effective than statementsexperts say.
“Focusing on the tactics and techniques used by people who promote disinformation is a more effective way to approach these conversations than trying to unmask the information,” says Wardle.
Think of general questions that encourage people to think about what they believe. For example, are any of your beliefs contradictory? Do the details of the theory they describe make sense? Did you think about the counter-evidence?
“People you ask questions can start to doubt and hear alternative points of view,” added Phil.
Don’t bet that a conversation ends with some kind of epiphany.
For those who absolutely trust conspiracy theories, abandoning them can be a very long process.
“Be realistic about what you can achieve,” says Byford. “Conspiracy theories instill a sense of superiority in believers. It is an important generator of self-esteem, which will make them resistant to change“.
For Claire Wardle, it’s not just about hurting egos. This year has been terrifying for many, and conspiracy theories may have offered them a source of comfort.
“He recognizes that everyone has seen their lives upset and are looking for explanations,” he says. “Conspiracy theories tend to be simple and powerful stories that explain the world. The reality is complex and confusing, which is more difficult for our brain to process.”
But experts agree that even if you don’t see immediate results, you shouldn’t give up.
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Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.