COVID-19 Conversations: Responding to Misinformation

Since the pandemic started, there has been a lot of information circulating about how to stay safe, how the virus spreads, and even the origins of the virus (among other things). Unfortunately, not all of this information is accurate or trustworthy and can lead to harmful outcomes. On an interpersonal level, differing information can also cause tension or difficulty in your own relationships. In the past, we’ve shared articles about specific types of misinformation that we’ve encountered (e.g., misinformation about wearing masks and about future vaccines) as well as which sources can be trusted to share credible information. With these resources, we also feel that it would be helpful to reflect on how to best handle confrontations with loved ones that may involve misinformation. If you have a loved one who has heard misinformation, or is trying to share it with you, what can you do?

  1. Try to put yourself in their shoes:
    1. Experts say that it’s important to acknowledge the other person’s thoughts and fears before attempting to disprove the misinformation. 
    2. It’s important to remember that the other person is being overwhelmed with COVID-related information too, and that this pandemic is affecting everybody differently.
    3. What may this look like? 
      1. “This virus is so scary, and it’s hard to know what to believe with all of this information flying around.”
  2. Share your own perspective, and some helpful links:
    1. After acknowledging the other person’s fears and questions, it would be a good opportunity to share what you’ve been learning and reading about the virus.
    2. Sharing what you think (e.g., “I’ve been hearing something different”), and possibly sending a link or two, can open the door for the other person to consider a different perspective.
    3. Taking a group approach (e.g., “Can we both read these articles and talk about it?”) can minimize the other person’s perception that you aren’t open to discussing the misinformation.
      1. Doing so can tell your loved one that you’re open to being persuaded, which can help them be more open to it as well.
  3. Try to limit personal blame:
    1. Try to avoid any implication that believing the piece of misinformation is a personal failure. 
    2. Experts suggest blaming external actors, like the overwhelming state of our information ecosystem, instead of your loved one for considering the piece of misinformation.

For more information about handling awkward or uncomfortable conversations related to COVID-19, see our previous update where we interviewed Dr. Maggie Pitts, as well as our update regarding stressful conversations during the holidays. In addition to these previous updates, much of the information in the current post was pulled from an Atlantic article that included expert’s guidance about responding to a loved one sharing COVID-19 misinformation.

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