Conspiracy theories about COVID-19 cause problems in the real world by discouraging some people from getting vaccinated, wearing masks or following other guidelines. Some bizarre theories about the virus have led believers to burn 5G cell towers, close vaccination clinics or even ingest poison proclaimed as cure.
Experts on misinformation and psychology The Associated Press interview offers several tips for individuals wondering how to talk to friends or family who believe in COVID-19 conspiracy theories. Here is what they suggest:
DO NOT LISTEN, DO NOT DIVE: Believers in conspiracy theories are unlikely to be influenced by people who mock their views. Instead of giving lectures, listen and ask questions about how they became interested in the conspiracy theory, where they get their information, and whether they have considered other explanations. Whenever possible you should have the conversation offline.
GET CALM: Discussing with someone about conspiracy theories will probably only result in higher blood pressure. Keep in mind that some people do not change their minds no matter what you say and it is likely that it will not convince them to prove the benefits of wearing a mask or vaccines.
CHANGE THE SUBJECT: Get shared experiences and interests to help the person focus on personal connections. If anyone dwells on the conspiracy theory, politely say that you would rather talk about something else.
In terms of increasing your own defense against conspiracy theories and misinformation about the virus (or any other topic), experts suggest the following:
EXPAND YOUR MEDIA: Checking out a variety of news sources ̵
CHECK SOURCES: Look to see who wrote the content and who is quoted in it. Are they named? Do they have a position or experience that gives their claims reliability? Are other views expressed in the article? Beware of allegations from “insiders”, anonymous internet posters or anyone quoting hearing aids as fact. Also, check the dates: Incorrect information vendors often post old photos or news stories claiming to be new.
BE CAREFUL OF CONTENT THAT PLAYS ON EMOTIONS: Misinformation and conspiracy theories often exploit anger, fear, or other emotions. Be wary of content that has highly emotional language or that seems to upset you. If you read something that really makes you fire up, wait until your emotions have cooled down before rebroadcasting or sending to friends.
CHECK EXTRAORDINARY REQUIREMENTS: If you read something that makes an incredible claim – one that seems too good, too awful, or too weird to be true, check to see if it is reported elsewhere. If it’s an important story, other businesses will confirm the details. Be wary of explosive claims if they are only made on a website or by a social media user.
GET OFFLINE: The pandemic has been a time of increased stress and fear for everyone, and there are many legitimate questions about the virus. Experts say that healthy habits such as exercise, meditation, positive relationships, volunteering and even hobbies can ease some of the fear – and make us more resistant to misinformation and conspiracy theories that exploit our fear or anger.