Tips for talking with family and friends about misinformation

The season of family and friend gatherings is upon us and we encourage everyone to safely enjoy time with friends and family after a rough two years.

At some point, you may find yourself talking with kin about the pandemic and they begin sharing information that you know to be false. Talking with someone who is sharing misinformation about COVID-19 can be frustrating and worrisome. Unfortunately, stopping the spread of that information is a tricky task that can cause hurt feelings, damage relationships and end friendships.

But there are ways to go about it that may be more fruitful and hopefully less divisive. The U.S. Surgeon General has created a guide to do just that called “A Community Toolkit for Addressing Health Misinformation.”

Here, we take a look at some of the toolkit points that may help you combat untruths.

1. Listen

  • Let them tell you why they believe what they do and be sure to let them know you understand their fears.
  • Instead of focusing on the false claim, focus on the “wider issue” and how they feel about it.
  • Fact checking may seem like a smart way to prove someone wrong, but it may also push them away, ending the conversation.

2. Lead them to credible sources

  • Let them know that you know finding accurate information can be hard, especially in times like this when the information about COVID-19 is constantly changing.
  • Underscore the need for them to find credible sources who are not in a position to profit in any way from the spread of misinformation.
  • Remind them that an expert on one topic is not necessarily an expert on another.

3. Empathize

  • When talking to a friend or family member, ensure them that you understand there are reasons they might find it hard to trust some sources for information.
  • Ask questions to understand why they believe what they do.
  • Admit that you also have had times when it was difficult to know what was true and false.
  • If possible, share a time when you have been misled by misinformation and explain why.

4. Don’t shame or embarrass

  • Try to keep the conversation between the two of you, either face-to-face or through direct messages on social media sites. Remember, no one likes to appear to be wrong.
  • Posting conversations in comments on social media could backfire, and means exposing more people to the misinformation.
  • Using a caring tone of voice; listening and showing empathy may help the person open up to your ideas.

5. Use inclusive language

  • When possible, use inclusive language making it clear that you see yourself being impacted in the same way.
  • Share how you also struggle to know who or what to trust.
hind the information? What is the evidence? What do other sources say?