The one thing you should not do when trying to debunk a conspiracy theory is to take poke fun at it or repost it on social media while poking fun at it, writes Whitney Phillips, co-author of You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polluted Information.
“Making fun of something spreads that thing just as quickly as sharing it sincerely would [because] the information ecology doesn’t give a shit [about] why anyone does what they do online. Sharing is sharing is sharing,” Phillips says, adding that respectful engagement is far more effective.
“From there you can aim your debunking at a target, like shooting a water gun through a hole in a fence,” she argues. “There’s no guarantee the person will be convinced by your correction, but at least the message is going to land where they can see it. Hooting jokes about the theory, in contrast, is like throwing a bucket of water at the same fence. You might make an impression on passersby, but otherwise, all you’ll have is splashback.”
Is detailed research-based argument — the method I have used in this article — a better way to sway the minds of conspiracy theorists?
Not according to Professor Mark Lorch, who teaches public engagement and science communication at the University of Hull in the U.K., who cites the popular science-entertainment TV show Mythbusters to prove his point: “You might be tempted to take a lead from popular media by tackling misconceptions and conspiracy theories via the myth-busting approach. Naming the myth alongside the reality seems like a good way to compare the fact and falsehoods side by side so that the truth will emerge. But it appears to elicit something that has come to be known as ‘the backfire effect’ whereby the myth ends up becoming more memorable than the fact.”
A more effective strategy, Lorch says, is to altogether ignore the myth or conspiracy theory and get straight to the point with short, sharp, accurate jabs.
In the case of the woman I spoke with who thinks she can cure COVID-19 and vaccines are harmful, what I should’ve said, according to this expert, is that “vaccines are safe and reduce your chances of getting the flu by 50 and 60 percent. Full stop. Next subject. What do you think about Bill Gates?”
For a more malevolent view of the situation, you might need to look back at our our most recent article on PenthouseMagazine.com to expand your imagination. For more on the Bill Gates Foundation, peruse away.