There was a time when Snopes was the most trusted mythbuster on the internet. Whatever dumb or funny or shocking thing you were laughing at, if somebody posted a Snopes link, the laughing stopped. You’d been had. Thanks, Snopes.
Photo by Laurent Bertrais.
But things are different now. If your uncle is outraged about something on Facebook, and you helpfully supply the Snopes fact-check showing that in fact no such thing ever happened, you might be met with straight up denial: Oh you believe what Snopes says. How cute.
So the trick to getting through to a Snopes denier, Jef Houner writes at Houston Press, is to leave Snopes out of it. The writers there are essentially journalists and researchers: They look to the rumour’s original source, and fact-check the heck out of it. So you can look at Snopes’ sources — the text of a law, the original unedited video that’s since been memed — and present those as the relevant facts.
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Here’s the thing, though. Changing your sources isn’t going to be enough to get through to your conspiracy theorist uncle. You’re just posting one link instead of another. So here’s the process Houner suggests. The hardest part is that, when you have that first clash over whether Snopes is a reputable source, you have to give up the argument and walk away.
He’s your uncle. You’ll see him again.
The next time he’s spouting disprovable nonsense, take a different approach. Tell him what you think, and why it’s personal to you. Don’t treat it like a debate that you must win right now; you’re just sharing your thoughts, and hopefully planting seeds of ideas that will flower over time. Here’s Houner on how this works:
Keep your information short. Three sentences should be the absolute maximum. A reality-based world view is a bitter pill to swallow sometimes, and you’re always better off taking it slow. Don’t give them a wall of text to nitpick tiny tangents from at will. You are the rapier, not the warhammer.
I also find it helpful to be extremely self-deprecating. Indicate that you’re not entirely sure about the whole thing (who is, after all) and always make it personal. This is what I read. This is what I think. It’s very simple to wave away the words of faceless media, big corporations and politicians. They aren’t real people, anyway, to the closed mind. It’s harder to do so to someone you know.
If you’re slowly helping a person to shift their world view, that’s more valuable to the world than “winning” one argument. A lot of us have a racist uncle, or a conspiracy-minded co-worker, and helping them to be a more sensitive and reasonable person is a job that starts at home. You have an opportunity here. Don’t blow it.