We’ve all been there: an old friend (or family member or former colleague) posts something obviously false to social media. What do you do? Ignore it? Start an argument? Dispute it calmly? We can’t tell you what to do, but here's some advice to get you started.
It’s always OK not to engage. If you don’t think the person is receptive to conversation, or if reading or engaging with these posts is affecting your mental health, there’s nothing wrong with ignoring, blocking or deleting. If the content someone has shared on social media is racist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semitic, abusive or threatening, it’s a good idea to report it before you do. Most social networks including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok let you do this.
Highlight your shared values before you point out that their information is bad, whether that’s love for your country or concern for your community. “Countering fake news may be especially effective when it comes from someone with a similar political identity” found Journalist Brooke Borel, author of the The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking.
It’s much more difficult to admit that you’re wrong in public. Consider moving your conversation off public forums and into a private chat. Especially if you want to preserve your relationship with this person.
And keep in mind that “respected” is subjective. If you’re talking to a conservative, facts from the Wall Street Journal will probably be better received than facts from the New York Times and vice versa. Know your audience.
It’s very difficult to change someone’s mind. Mozilla fellow Renée DiResta notes that “We have a tendency to be receptive to information that supports our preconceived biases.” So don’t beat yourself up if you fail to change someone’s perspective. It’s notoriously difficult to do.
Want to read more about talking to friends who share misinformation? Here are some great resources from around the web
- How to talk to people stuck in a conspiracy theory hellscape: an interview with full-time debunker Mick West - author of "Escaping the Rabbit Hole"
- How to talk to conspiracy theorists—and still be kind: Experts and r/ChangeMyView subreddit moderators offer 10 tips to debunk conspiracy theories convincingly from MIT Technology Review
- How to fight lies, tricks,and chaos online: From The Verge
- Should I remove or reply to my racist Facebook friend?: From BBC News Online’s Cherry Wilson
- How to talk to your friends about fake news: from Journalist Brooke Borel, author of the The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking.
- Coronavirus: How to talk about conspiracy theories: From the BBC's specialist disinformation reporter Marianna Spring