How to help deal with fake news

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City Church Christchurch

Fake news.

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5 December 2020
By Jonathan D

We all know that not everything that we read is trustworthy, balanced or true. With access to so many virtual information sites and social media platforms we can see that attempts are always being made to influence us in subtle, or not so subtle, ways.

Of course, false information may just be a mistake or a satire but more likely it is trying to create “clickbait” or is political propaganda, even with an agenda that isn’t immediately clear.

As members of the general public it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with so much information, some giving so differing opinions about the same thing. An interest of mine is keeping physically fit. I find it confusing just seeing how many exercise and diet posts come up on my Facebook newsfeed page, making various claims. Now I have decided not to take these any further than just a brief cursory glance.

With everything going on in the world, in particular the coronavirus pandemic, we can all easily feel off-balance. If there are also things happening to us as individuals such as having to deal with a stressful family situation, then we can be more vulnerable to reacting to statements and claims that we read. If, in particular, we subconsciously can’t bear to think that we may have been part of causing an unpleasant situation, we may be more likely to believe another cause for this, even if this is blatantly untrue.

So, instead of reading something on-line, if someone says to us something which we clearly see is not based on fact, how do we react? How we respond can be crucial as to whether that person continues to believe fake news or starts to question that belief.

A woman looking at her laptop with people talking in the background

Some ways to help others who express fake news.

Don’t blurt out that what the person is saying is wrong and give them what you see is the correct way to see the issue. It is likely that the “fake news” will be quite strongly-held and trying to correct them bluntly will not have the desired effect.

Try to ignore what you see as the myth that is being put forward. This can help it to be discarded in the mental bin that it deserves.

Be friendly. This is always a good start. You can aim to find some neutral common ground of a shared interest or conversation point. After at least some mental engagement then you can turn to the thorny issue at hand. A good example of how to respond to a “fake news” vaccine claim could be to state that the flu vaccine is considered safe and reduces the risk of getting flu by 50 to 60%, full stop. Don’t mention the misconceptions, as they tend to be better remembered.

Telling your “story” can be more influential than being argumentative. Explaining that since you started to get the flu vaccine every year you really haven’t had the flu nearly so much could be quite a powerful message.

Don’t question an underlying worldview. Don’t accuse your friend of being a materialistic dinosaur, brainwashed, stupid or weak. Maybe instead suggest that money can be made in the manufacture and distribution of the flu vaccine which gives many people an opportunity for some profit. Instead of reading the blog about vaccines causing so many problems, ask if they have seen the website about improving the efficiency of the flu vaccine instead.

Being part of a church is all about “the good news” and so can divert thinking from bad news which can pull you down. Discussing and immersing yourself in the hope for the future is a very positive distraction from the negatives that can be seen all around us.

It can take time to pull away from interest in fake news but it is possible. Getting back to pleasant interests and encouraging critically analytical thinking by politely questioning the belief can work. Distraction onto a more healthy and hopeful way of thinking has more of a long-term approach to healthy ways of considering “news”.

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