GSAN: Thanksgiving special issue: Feast on facts

Note: Get Smart About News is taking next week off and will return Dec. 5. Happy Thanksgiving!

Four tips for civil Thanksgiving conversation

An illustration of six family members gathered around food at a table with gourds and autumn leaves for fall décor in the background.
Eating at Thanksgiving is the easy part, but having civil conversations around hot button issues and misinformation can be more difficult to manage. Illustration credit:
The holiday season is a time to come together in gratitude with loved ones, but what happens when you encounter conspiratorial thinking or false claims? Perhaps your cousin shares conspiratorial thinking as readily as they pass the cranberry sauce. Or maybe your neighbor drops off homemade cookies and is itching to engage in dialogue about false election claims. Confrontational approaches in these types of situations can lead to heated arguments that can fracture trust in relationships.

Rather than debating and trying to convince someone that you’re right and they’re wrong, there are other approaches you can take when misinformation is brought up around the dinner table. The News Literacy Project has recently joined with the National Institute for Civil Discourse and the League of Women Voters to discuss productive conversations without confrontation.

To help you navigate interpersonal relationships and misinformation or polarizing viewpoints during the holidays, here are some strategies and tips shared in recent webinars.

Practice “PEP” (patience, empathy, persistence).

One conversation around the Thanksgiving table is unlikely to change someone’s mind, but it could build trust, understanding and empathy, according to Carolyn Lukensmeyer, the former executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse. If the relationship is important to you, asking thoughtful questions, sharing personal life experiences and acknowledging areas of agreement can facilitate better understanding of each other. Bring curiosity — not animosity — to the conversation.

An easy way to remember this is to practice PEP, which stands for patience, empathy and persistence. Patience because these conversations take time — sometimes years. It may be difficult to hear your uncle share extremist beliefs founded on disinformation, but practicing empathy and respecting those beliefs, even when you disagree, sets a foundation for civil conversations. And finally, it takes persistence because you don’t want to give up on someone. People fall for misinformation due to a variety of reasons, such as confirmation bias, a sense of community or belonging, and plain old emotional manipulation from bad actors spreading disinformation.

Act as a trusted intermediary.

Many people rely on their network of personal connections to navigate beliefs. Facts from standards-based news organizations or professional fact-checkers may not reach those whose strong beliefs have become a core part of their identity. But a trusted intermediary — such as a close friend or family member — may still be able to reach them. After all, research shows we’re more likely to believe fact checks from people we know.

It’s not just our personal relationship at stake when misinformation spreads. It’s also our democracy and trust in institutions. Elevating civic discourse and having meaningful relationships means we need to act with intention, according to Chelsey Cartwright of the Democracy Truth Project at the League of Women Voters.

Use fact-checking tools. 

Research shows that people fact-check social media posts more thoughtfully when paired with someone who doesn’t share their perspective. If fabricated or manipulated content is at the center of your conversation, you could try using a reverse image search together. Or if you’re doing a Google search, you can employ strategies from the Stanford History Education Group, like lateral reading or click restraint. And critical observation is also a helpful skill.

Recognize when to pause or end the conversation.

If tensions are running high, it may be time to put a pin in the conversation and bite into some pumpkin pie instead. You can always return to the same topic again another time. Remember that a core part of the American democratic process is to disagree, said Lukensmeyer.

Disinformation is intended to be inaccurate and stoke emotions. It’s easy to feel anger or other strong emotions when viral hoaxes or polarizing views are part of the conversation. You can always take a pause and not have an immediate reaction. Be patient. Be persistent. Be ready to talk about these topics during your next family gathering … or even again at next year’s Thanksgiving.


Poll: Which tip are you most likely to use if misinformation is brought up at holiday gatherings?

Practice PEP (patience, empathy, persistence).
Act as a trusted intermediary.
Use fact-checking tools.
Pause or end the conversation.

Do you plan to use any of these tips during the holiday season? We’d love to hear how it goes, and we may even feature your experience in this newsletter. If you have a short story or anecdote to share about civil conversations during the holidays, please reply to this email or send us a note at [email protected]



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Your weekly issue of Get Smart About News is created by Susan Minichiello (@susanmini), Dan Evon (@danieljevon), Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) and Pamela Brunskill (@PamelaBrunskill). It is edited by Mary Kane (@marykkane) and Lourdes Venard (@lourdesvenard).

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