The Delicate Art of Debunking Conspiracy Theories

February 10, 2020


How do you debunk a conspiracy theory?

Suppose people think that Israel carried out the 9/11 attacks or that the moon landing was faked. Or that Koch money or Hillary Clinton or Pete Buttigieg was behind the Iowa caucus fiasco, or that the coronavirus comes from a fiendish plot by multinational corporations.

Conspiracy theorists tend to be emotionally invested in their beliefs, meaning that if you contradict them, you might make them angry. And if you offer them evidence that they’re wrong, you might make them angrier still – and so strengthen their commitment to their belief.

Social scientists have found that, in some contexts, corrections actually backfire.

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