QAnon, Instagram Blackouts: Misinformation is ‘Its Own Pandemic’ Among Parents | #parenting

If you’re active on social media, you may have seen a fellow parent share some of this information. So how do you go about pushing back against the falsehoods? I asked three experts to weigh in.

If it’s someone you know, talk to them privately. Start by asking broad questions about their posts, like, “What is this about? Can you explain it to me?” said Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory researcher and the author of “The World’s Worst Conspiracies.” You’re trying to gather knowledge about their beliefs in a non-adversarial way. “You don’t want to try to debate or debunk, it makes them think they’re right,” he said. Just ask questions and get them to explain it to you. “Get them to do the thinking,” said Rothschild. “You can’t reason someone out of a fringe belief,” but you may be able to get them to see their logic isn’t holding up.

Approach the subject with kindness and empathy. Paul Offit, M.D., the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who talks to parents who have encountered vaccine conspiracy theories, said that “I am sympathetic to the fact that it’s hard to see your kids injected with a biological fluid,” he said. “I can see when people would be worried about that.” So try to engage with what your friend is really afraid of if they are posting a lot about child trafficking. Are they scared of their child getting kidnapped? If so, why?

You have to be willing to meet them where they are without calling them “crazy” or dismissing them out of hand. “Even feigning interest in the conspiracy in order to find out what their real pain point or fear is that they’re trying to address in their lives, may give you info on how to reach them as they’re getting more and more involved in this,” Donovan explained.

Acknowledge when someone is not open to a discussion. If your friend is so deeply into the QAnon world that they cannot have a civil discussion about their beliefs, “Let them know you love them, that you’re here for them,” but then drop it, said Rothschild — you can’t “talk somebody out of a belief that they want to have.”

If it’s someone you don’t know personally, respond with facts. If someone is repeating misinformation, say, in a Facebook mom group, you can gently push back with a link to correct data, said Donovan. It’s appropriate to respond, “‘I don’t think this discussion has a place here,’ and potentially link to some of the reporting going on,” she said. If that misinformation is anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim, as many of QAnon-related conspiracies tend to be, you should report those posts to either the moderator or the social media company, Donovan said. “It’s important to use the tools available on the platform to get these posts removed.”

Catie Stewart ignored all the Instagram messages that were abusive or contained threats of violence toward her or Sen. Wiener, but she said she had a decent success rate responding to constituents who were just misinformed. “You helped pass a law in California for pedophiles, basically,” one parent initially wrote to Wiener’s account over Instagram D.M., which Stewart shared with me. “As a mother, I need a clear understanding of what the laws that are being passed actually mean.”

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