Is grandma falling for wind turbine disinfo?

Pick up the phone and call her. Do it regularly.

The current situation in Texas is horrific — which is why it’s especially important for people to not fall for disinformation right now. A society drowning in conspiracy theories is a society that will struggle with an adequate response to his disaster, or any other disaster. We’ve already seen how playing fast and loose with the facts on wind turbines is obscuring the real issues:

This is not and should not be a political issue, but of course, it frequently doesn’t work like that. And in recent days, I’ve had people turn to me, asking for advice on how to talk to older relatives about what’s happening.

I have some experience engaging with older folks who are being taken for a ride, and so I have a few things to say on the matter:

1. Obviously, the safety of your older relatives should be your number one priority. If they’re in an area affected by the disaster, I can only hope and pray that you are on top of that. On the other hand, I have been contacted by someone who was trying to discourage their somewhat unwell 80-something grandfather from driving in from Arkansas to help.

It’s important to remember that nobody likes feeling helpless in a time like this, and older people are no exception. I suggested getting on the phone with grandfather to help him donate to reputable orgs, etc. By taking time to engage the people in our lives instead of brushing them aside, we can ensure better outcomes.

2. If you can’t visit in person due to distance, the pandemic, or both — pick up and call. In fact, make phone calls a regular part of your routine. This is how I’ve managed to not only stay in touch with relatives affected by disinformation, but helped convince them that, for example, Covid vaccines aren’t necessarily the work of Satan and they should get them.

When your loved ones hear your voice, their emotional reaction will be different, and more profound, than what they experience when reading an e-mail or a text. If you can FaceTime or whatever, even better!

3. Help your relatives fact check their social media ecosystem by themselves. People make this part sound like an elaborate science that you need several PhD’s in but the truth is, it all begins with a simple axiom — sharing something because you want to believe it, or because it seems believable, is the wrong impulse.

I’ll demonstrate this on me!

When news began filtering in that Senator Ted Cruz may have fled frozen Texas and his imperiled constituents for the lush paradise of Cancun, I waited before I tweeted or retweeted anything. At first.

But then, I saw a journalist who I thought to be rock solid confirming this debacle. So I said something, because I was horrified. However, in sharing the “confirmation” with friends and colleagues, I discovered that the journalist in question was far from rock solid, and that they had a track record of “confirming” things that weren’t true.

So then literally this happened:

Now, my point here is to not drag you through the minutiae of how we people in the media confirm or don’t confirm things.

My point is to illustrate the fact that it’s OK to have doubts. It’s OK to own a mistake if you made it — especially in haste. Even someone like me, who’s built her entire career around verifying information, can do it. And so can you. And so can your loved ones. Honestly, feel free to show them my tweet.

And feel free to tell them that it was indeed confirmed later, and I continued to be horrified, but also made memes with the full knowledge that Cruz really is this incompetent and tone deaf:

4. You should always point out examples of how, on the local level especially, disinformation can cause more problems and even endanger people further.

In the pandemic, our worlds have gotten smaller. And the world is frequently already a small place for older people. It’s why they care so much about what the neighbors are up to, to give one obvious example.

And when trying to help them navigate the world of “alternative facts,” especially during a natural disaster, you should think locally.

What’s one of their favorite stores to visit? One of their favorite cafes? Maybe a park they love? If you don’t know, find out.

And then let them know what could happen in that store should someone, for example, post false information on the neighborhood page about how there’s a first-come, first-serve vaccination booth inside (I’m currently mimicking a false report I saw floating around on Viber — but this could happen anyone). Or something equally random. Could they imagine a line forming outside? Maybe a stampede? Could somebody get hurt? What if someone else said that those vaccines have cyanide in them? Could someone show up with a gun? How would that go? Could Greg, their favorite cashier, get hurt?

By anchoring the dangers of disinformation in real-life locations, featuring real people, we have a better chance of getting through to someone. Simply scoffing, “Grandma, don’t believe that crap!” isn’t going to work. You have to help your loved ones have a real, emotional connection to how conspiracy theories affect the fabric of our society.

It’s worth it! It’s worth it now, and it will be especially worth it later.

If you need help with a loved one brainwashed by conspiracy theories, hit me up at nvantonova [at] gmail {dot} com, let’s talk. If you learned something new here, please consider a paid subscription. $5 a month can make all the difference to someone like me!