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Working Around Misinformation During Holiday Chats

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Experts advise using compassion if the conversation veers into difficult political territory around this year's holiday dinner table. (Adobe Stock)
Experts advise using compassion if the conversation veers into difficult political territory around this year's holiday dinner table. (Adobe Stock)
November 25, 2020

FARGO, N.D. - Holiday conversations can be stressful, especially in a year filled with misinformation about the election, the pandemic and racial protests. But experts say folks can use compassion at this year's Thanksgiving table, or during family chats online to challenge tricky subjects.

Bridget Todd, podcast host and communications director with the group Ultraviolet pointed out that distortions spread on social media by playing on people's fears and mistrust of other groups.

She said families can approach relatives who may have been misled with empathy, using verified facts and avoiding escalation.

"As much as it can be hard, as much as you don't want to talk about politics," said Todd, "and I get it, I have my own wild cousins posting wild stuff in the family group chat - I think it's really important that we remember the critical role that just being a trusted source of accurate information is, in the fight to curb this disinformation."

She said she tracked social media campaigns that spread mistrust in communities of color about mail-in ballots.

And Facebook said it posted warnings on more than 150 million posts between March and September, as part of its efforts to protect election integrity.

Meanwhile, in North Dakota, there have been deep divisions about pandemic safety measures, including the use of masks.

Todd spoke at an online event by PEN America on how to handle difficult holiday discussions about politics and misinformation. Another panelist, Vanderbilt Assistant Professor of Psychology Lisa Fazio, said everybody falls for disinformation at some point.

She said research shows it's simple for people to fool even themselves, especially through repetition.

"It's easy to think that, 'I'm above all this and it's just, like, my dumb cousin who falls for misinformation and I would never do something like that,'" said Fazio. "And that's just not how it works."

Carnegie Mellon University researchers analyzed more than 200 million tweets about COVID-19 between January and May. Of the top influential "re-tweeters," it found 82% were bots, intentionally passing along misinformation.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND