The Sift: Thanksgiving special issue: A second helping of facts


Teach news literacy this week
Thanksgiving special issue: A second helping of facts

Note: The Sift is taking next week off and will return Dec. 6. Happy Thanksgiving!

Share a second helping of facts this Thanksgiving

There is plenty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday, including rising vaccination rates, especially among children, and the ability to reconnect with friends and family. But as misinformation continues to spread across social media feeds and family group chats, the conversational pitfalls of holiday gatherings can feel daunting. After all, as the recent Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder report points out, “America is in a crisis of trust and truth,” in which “bad information has become as prevalent, persuasive, and persistent as good information.”

The report also underscores that while widespread false information “is a symptom” of underlying inequities and problems and “not the root causes of society’s ills,” it results in real-world harm. “Disinformation,” the report notes, “pours lighter fluid on the sparks of discord that exist in every community.” Below are four tips to help you douse flare-ups sparked by falsehoods should they arise at your Thanksgiving celebration.

Prepare to productively address vaccine misinformation. Whether you’re spending time on the road, on a flight or just cooking at home, consider listening to this episode (link warning: profanity) of Jonathan Van Ness’ podcast. It digs into how vaccine misinformation affects people and includes an extended interview with Dr. Kolina Koltai, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington.
  • Key point: Misinformation about vaccines creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear that makes opting out of or delaying shots seem like a good idea when it’s not. Many people who are vaccine hesitant are genuinely trying to make the best decision for themselves and their loved ones. Recognizing those underlying motivations can be a source of compassion as you patiently try to clarify the facts.
  • Related: Koltai recently provided testimony, along with other experts, at the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
Learn concrete strategies for talking to people who believe misinformation. NLP recently produced a webinar focused on helping people have productive conversations about false beliefs without confrontation. This webinar — part of a series for older adults in partnership with AARP's OATS/Senior Planet program — is a perfect way to prep yourself for constructive holiday discussions.
  • Key points: People believe misinformation for a variety of reasons, but they’re often sincere and well-intentioned. So it’s important to engage false beliefs through conversation rather than confrontation, and to use patience, empathy and persistence (PEP). Preparing key phrases — such as, “That’s interesting. Can you tell me where you heard that?” and “Can we search for more information about this together?” — might help keep things in friendly and fruitful territory.
  • Resource: Infographic: “How to speak up without starting a showdown” (NLP’s Resource Library).
Familiarize yourself with common misinformation trends and themes. Viral rumors cluster around current and controversial events, and form patterns over time. NLP’s Viral Rumor Rundown blog helps surface these dynamics using topical tags and “NewsLit takeaways” to help you go beyond the specific details of a rumor and focus on what can be learned from it. Browsing through recent debunks from reputable, standards-based fact-checking organizations can also help you learn to spot misinformation trends.
Be prepared to follow up. Research shows we’re more likely to believe fact-checks from people we know, and holiday gatherings may offer important opportunities to highlight reliable sources, plant seeds of doubt for bogus beliefs and help loved ones think through key questions moving forward. It may also be worthwhile following up to see if friends or relatives would like to continue the conversation or seek out credible information on hot-button topics together.

Not all false beliefs can be remedied in one holiday meal. But we can do our part to address the information disorder and fight for facts by calling out problematic falsehoods and speaking up with respect and empathy.

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Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) and Pamela Brunskill (@PamelaBrunskill), and edited by Mary Kane (@marykkane).

You’ll find teachable moments from our previous issues in the archives. Send your suggestions and success stories to [email protected].

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Check out NLP's Checkology virtual classroom, where students learn how to navigate today’s information landscape by developing news literacy skills.