Note: The Sift is taking next week off and will return Dec. 5. Happy Thanksgiving!
Feast on facts this holiday season
For those of us who celebrate Thanksgiving, it can be a warm holiday to express gratitude for everything good in our lives. However, navigating conversations with family members — especially those who have been misled by mis- and disinformation — can be stressful. Even if you and your loved ones are lucky enough to agree on the best way to carve a turkey (or the cost of turkeys) this year, it may be difficult to establish common ground on consequential and fundamental topics, like the integrity of the recent midterm elections.
In that spirit, this issue of The Sift is a feast of facts dedicated to highlighting helpful resources to keep your Thanksgiving holiday civil (and fun!). Please feel free to share this special issue with your colleagues and students.
Why do people believe misinformation? How can we talk to them about it? You’ll find an abundance of useful tips in “Productive conversations without confrontation,” a recent NLP webinar that explores these questions and lays out practical advice for holiday gatherings in polarized environments. One approach — shared by Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer of the National Institute for Civil Discourse — is authentic listening, which respects and affirms a person’s life experience and satisfies the need to be heard, even when you disagree with someone. Beliefs generally aren’t changed during a conversation, but respectful discussions can expand understanding and increase curiosity in other points of view.
The midterms this year were safe and secure; however, misinformation about the elections continues to circulate online. NLP’s RumorGuard has two rundowns for you to keep the facts close at hand. This roundup features rumors that were debunked after Election Day and explains factors that determine why a rumor is or isn’t false. And this post breaks down false claims about the so-called “sugar poisoning season” around Thanksgiving time. (Though they’re not the healthiest choice, rest assured that the sweets you eat won’t make you more vulnerable to the flu!)
If you need a breather from mounds of mashed potatoes, we’ve got you covered with some recommended reading and listening for the holiday weekend:
“Lies that are repeated over and over change the public’s perception of an issue and spread exponentially. This is a tactic that powerful and corrupt forces have long used, but one that has gained terrifying new meaning and pitch in the age of Big Data and social media.” — “How to Fight Fascism Before It’s Too Late” (Maria Ressa, The Atlantic).
“We know that the media that we consume does shape the kind of people that come out the other end.” — “Humane Technology on 60 Minutes” (Your Undivided Attention, Center for Humane Technology).
“A lot of research into misinformation assumes that users can’t decide what is true and what is not, and so we have to help them. We didn’t see that at all. We saw that people actually do treat content with scrutiny and they also try to help each other. But these efforts are not currently supported by the platforms.” — “Empowering social media users to assess content helps fight misinformation” (Adam Zewe, MIT News Office).
Misinformation won’t stop cold turkey this Thanksgiving, but there’s a lot for which to be grateful and hopeful. (More news literacy, anyone?) Adding a little empathy and listening — next to the meat and potatoes of standing up for facts — can help us all have a respectful and meaningful holiday with our family and friends.
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