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PRODUCTIVE CONVERSATIONS: Talking to people who believe misinformation

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Posted at 10:08 AM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 12:08:16-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Talking to people may come easier to some than others. However, when we toss in different political beliefs, viewpoints, and values, it can be hard to have conversations.

What if the person you are having a conversation with also thinks misinformation is true? What if it's someone you are close to?

There are a few ways you can take to have productive conversations.

"Mis- and disinformation have been a problem since humans began to communicate. It's not a new problem, so I think we should contextualize it in that there's no solution to make it go away."

Two key points to remember are the definitions of misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation is false or inaccurate information, usually spread unknowingly. As for disinformation, there is an intent behind it.

"Disinformation really causes dissension. It's meant to raise alarm about something. It's written and shared in a way to where it can cause division and very real harm."
— Ebonee Rice, National News Literacy

While bad information gets around through many methods, Arizona State University School of Social and Behavioral Sciences Assistant Professor, Shawn Walker, says emotions play a part in why people believe what they believe. Walker says, "often times these discussions around mis- and disinformation aren't about truth or fiction. They're often more of a discussion about values."

DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS MADE EASY

To help in discussions, try asking questions. "One of the questions to ask someone is why they believe what they believe. Often times, folks are really being honest brokers in these conversations. They don't believe mis- or disinformation because they hate somebody or hate you, or because you have a disagreement," says Walker.

There are also three key points to keep in mind when approaching someone. Ebonee Rice with The News Literacy Project says the first is patience.

"Someone didn't start to believe something overnight. There was a slow process of them reading an article that leads into another article or a YouTube video that led to another YouTube video." —Ebonee Rice

Rice to keep in mind: one conversation may not change their mind. That's where patience and consistency come into play. Finally, there is empathy. "[It's about] recognizing that we all have believed something that wasn't true before. We've all have seen an article and that immediate moment that you read it, you had a reaction to it," says Rice.
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