Ten Tips for Talking to Someone Who Believes in the Conspiracy Theory

Ten Tips for Talking to Someone Who Believes in the Conspiracy Theory

Everyone is an influencer. And that is good and bad . It’s bad because silly ideas seem to be spread just as easily as grounded ideas.

For that reason, social networks have helped strengthen conspiracy theorists: anti-vaccines, anti-5G, who think that the coronavirus does not exist or that it was created in a laboratory.

Avoid frustration

Talking to these kinds of people is frustrating, sometimes because they are so well informed, sometimes because they are so stubborn. Below, Tanya Basu of the MIT Technology Review proposes ten strategies to do so in the most effective way:

  1. Treat each other with respect . Although it can be considered a simple rhetorical trick (a trick to win the debate, not to get to the truth, because what matters are the ideas and the data, not the persuasion to make them nest in the other), without respect, compassion and empathy, our interlocutor will close in band and stop listening to our ideas, no matter how valid they are. Sometimes that is very difficult, of course, because it can also happen that there is a real nut in front of us.

  2. Prevent others from attending the debate . Having an audience is the best way to influence people’s behavior and the future of a conversation. Social networks tend to drift towards the harsh exchange of invectives and zascas, precisely because there are millions of eyes potentially reading what is being said. It is better to resolve these kinds of issues in private, perhaps by a Twitter DM, rather than by a tweet that leaves the conspiratorial at the mercy of the ludibrio. Shaming someone in public is one of the worst formulas when it comes to reaching an agreement.

  3. Don’t waste time with lost cases . If the person in front of you says categorically that he will never change his mind, do not waste time and energy: it is unlikely that you will get anything of benefit. Sometimes people just want to express their opinions without being bothered because their opinion is actually a way of describing themselves in front of the world: it does not matter if that opinion is true or not, but if the opinion allows them to be part of a social club.
  4. Agree on some points . People are not wrong in absolutely everything, surely there are parts of their argument in which you agree. Show them and reinforce them to show that you are on the same side and thus generate an atmosphere of trust. The adversarial format always tends to be very thorny.
  5. Try the ‘truth sandwich’ . It uses the fact-fallacy-fact approach, a method first proposed by linguist George Lakoff . It consists of declaring what is true, debunking the conspiracy theory, and re-declaring what is true, says Donovan. For example, if you are talking to someone who believes in the 5G conspiracy theory, you could structure their argument like this: "Coronavirus is an airborne virus, which means that it is transmitted by sneezing or coughing; Viruses are not transmitted through radio waves, the coronavirus, which is an airborne virus, cannot be carried by 5G. " It is repetitive, but it reinforces the facts and points out where the conspiracy theory is not working.
  6. Use the Socratic method . In other words, use questions to help others test their own argument and see if it holds up. Because the best way to change someone’s mind is to make them feel like they’ve figured it out themselves.
  7. Be careful with your loved ones . Before embarking on a discussion with a family member or close friend, you may need to assess how damaging that idea is and whether it is so worth confronting. Social relationships are preferable to winning depending on what debates. Sometimes you have to bite your tongue, be polite, or even think that each one holds his candle. Imagine trying to convince your mother, devastated by the death of her husband, that Heaven does not exist when she uses that belief to combat her sadness.
  8. There are difficult ideas to change . All the ideas that have to do in a profound way with the worldview, morality, politics and others are very difficult to change because they are intertwined with other sets of ideas that support the entire personality and way of facing the world at the level. Social. That means it won’t be enough to show peer-reviewed studies or overwhelming logic. The other person may never change their mind. The world, after all, is more interesting if there is neurodiversity.
  9. If it gets worse, quit . All debate is like the weather: a non-linear dynamic system. You have to watch out for those storm clouds that lurk: if they grow, quit. That can mean both that the other person begins to lose the papers and that you are losing them yourself because the demons are taking you away. You just have to know how to stop.
  10. Every little bit helps . A conversation probably won’t change a person’s opinion, and that’s okay. People are not going to have profound changes in belief in one go. Sometimes you can change someone’s perspective a bit, like water eroding a rock. You won’t debunk a conspiracy theory, but you will open the way for someone to do so in the future.

Bonus track: above all, above all, avoid ad hominem as much as possible. It does not matter who the other person is, neither their studies, nor their culture, nor their ideology. What matters are the ideas. Let the ideas be the ones to confront , not the people; respect the latter, be inclement as much as possible with the former; heed the koala: