How to talk to a conspiracy theorist — and still be kind

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 36% of US adults believe false conspiracy theories about COVID-19, such as the one claiming Bill Gates wants to inject people with vaccine medication that contains microchips that will be activated by 5G cell towers.

MIT Technology Review interviewed various experts and moderators of Reddit's r/ChangeMyView to find out how you can talk to conspiracy theory believers without wanting to throttle them. The article presents the experts' advice in the form of 10 tips. The tips include treating the conspiracy theorist you are talking to with respect otherwise you will immediately shut down the conversation. Also, if you insist on speaking with a conspiracy theorist do it through a direct message rather than posting on their Facebook wall or publicly on Twitter. It's also good to agree on the kernel of truth that many conspiracy theories contain so you can build trust with your conversation partner.

Another tip is to use the "truth sandwich":

Use the fact-fallacy-fact approach, a method first proposed by linguist George Lakoff. "State what's true, debunk the conspiracy theory, and state what's true again," Donovan says. For example, if you're talking to someone who believes the 5G conspiracy theory, you could structure your argument as "Coronavirus is an airborne virus, which means it is passed by sneezing, coughing, or particles. Because viruses are not transmitted via radio waves, coronavirus, which is an airborne virus, can't be carried by 5G." It's repetitive, but it reinforces facts and points out where the conspiracy theory doesn't work.