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What to do when you see inaccurate information on social media, a psychology professor weighs in

Posted at 5:47 PM, Jan 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-13 19:53:12-05

OGDEN, Utah — The past few weeks have brought a lot of political news, and with it another slew of misinformation. More people than ever before are getting their ‘news’ from social media, Dr. Shannon McGillivray, Weber State University Associate Professor of Psychology, said.

In a tweet, the American Psychological Association said that the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 U.S. elections provided "fertile ground" for conspiracy theories. At times, conspiracy theories and other untrue information can come with disastrous consequences.

“Often times people get upset and very defensive when you challenge what they believe, or they are faced with challenging information. There is kind of that automatic response to put your guard up,” she said.

Some people refuse to see the other side or question if their information is accurate by only consuming ‘news’ that aligns with their beliefs which creates people to become very one-sided, Dr. McGillivray said.

“Because we hide people or unfollow people who are posting things that are counter to what we think, we often surround ourselves with and friend, or follow those with similar beliefs,” she said.

When deciding to confront someone about misinformation, Dr. McGillivray suggests people do not do it through social media, but instead privately. Studies suggest that if someone wants to combat misinformation, they must first be aware of what the other persons arguments are, she said. This should be done with empathy and compassion, not in a combative manner, Dr. McGillivray said.

“Most studies suggest you want to briefly acknowledge the misinformation, like, ‘hey, I saw that you posted this, and I read it and maybe it’s clear that you think it is happening’,” she said.

Next, people should cite the correct information from credible sources. Studies show the more closely you can align the correct information with the inaccurate information, the better, Dr. McGillivray said.

“Sometimes asking people even the simple question, could there be any situation where maybe this isn’t true,” she said.

There is no guarantee that confronting someone about misinformation will lead to them changing their mind, Dr. McGillivray warns.

You can read more about the impacts of ‘fake news’ from the American Psychological Association here, and how to help control the spread of misinformation, here.