6 Ways to Debunk False Claims

Let’s talk about the  “d-word” — disinformation — and its close primo, misinformation. 

It’s 2022 and if you haven’t heard at least one false claim in the past week, you must be hiding somewhere. From social media to Spanish-language radio, where a vast majority of Latinos turn to for news, both disinformation and misinformation are especially rampant in Latino circles. YouTube and apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are platforms where U.S. Latino users outnumber the general public — and the dis- and misinformation found there has skyrocketed in recent years, too. Many platforms are less likely to moderate or flag false content in Spanish, making it even more likely that our abuelos will be fed falsehoods.

First, let’s explain the difference between disinformation and misinformation:

Disinformation is false info that’s deliberately spread to influence opinion or obscure the truth.

Misinformation is incorrect info that may not be meant to mislead but succeeds at doing so nonetheless.

The first is intentional, but the other may not be. 

From trying to convince us that one political party is secretly socialist or communist (a trigger point for many Latinos) to telling us our niños are being indoctrinated at school, it’s time we get comfortable talking calmly about both disinformation and misinformation before it ruins more families and communities. 

Why It’s Worth It

Before you go assuming that talking to friends and familia who spread this kind of false information is not worth it, it’s important to note that researchers say it is. Experts say we are more likely to change our point of view if we are approached by someone we care about who we believe cares about us, too. It’s all in how you approach the conversation. Here are six ways to get these often difficult conversations going.

  1. Don’t be so sure of yourself. If you have a tia who loves to go on and on about issues that are important to her — issues that perhaps you feel differently about, let her. The most important thing is to come across like you’re willing to listen as much as speak. The other person needs to feel that you want to at least try and understand their concerns. Look for the things that you both agree on first and build from there. Also, be willing to admit that you may be wrong — even if you’re sure you’re not— and it may go a long way to disarming her right off the bat.
  2. Keep your emotions in check. So much misinformation and disinformation are rooted in emotional language that’s designed to stir the pot. And we Latinos can go from zero to 60 quick, but that’s a surefire way to sink the conversation from the start. Take a deep breath and think about how the other person is likely to respond ahead of time, so you’re less apt to be triggered by specific words or phrases.
  3. Be concise and clear. The simpler your message, the greater the likelihood it will be well received. If you bog your prima down with tons of stats, figures, and jargon, she is more likely to tune you out. Think about what you want to say ahead of the conversation and consider ways to share that message without going overboard.
  4. Ask them where they heard their facts. From there, you can analyze together whether it’s likely to have a partisan slant designed to get people talking or to be rooted in facts. Next, it’s your turn to share where your facts come from. Be clear and instead of saying something like, ”this is a much better source of information,” try explaining why you trust your sources. Recent research from Columbia University professor Yamil Ricardo Velez found that when Latinos read fact-checked pieces that correct the misinformation, they often change what they believe. This was true for English and Spanish speakers, liberals, and conservatives. More fact-checking may be one way of improving our gente’s knowledge. Factchequeado is a nonprofit initiative created earlier this year to counter misinformation and disinformation within the Latino communities in the United States and is a great source for Spanish speakers.
  5. Talk money to them. It may be a good idea to bring up who funds many of the so-called news sources in existence. Many are opinion shows. Ask them to think about who benefits most from some of the conspiracy theories laid out, instead of just taking them at face value. When falsehoods are reported at reputable news outlets, company policy dictates that the employees who shared them lose their jobs. But some sources don’t care if their employees spew falsehoods— that makes a big difference.
  6. Finally, choose the right time and place. Sunday dinner with la familia is probably not the best place to tackle this subject, and neither are holiday gatherings. These conversations can go the wrong way even with the best intentions, so having them when you’re not likely to spoil a larger event for family and friends is ideal.

If you’re committed to bringing our people together and you want to help get out the vote, sign up for free digital media literacy training tools via the Misinfo/Disinfo Training Course QR Code shown here. The course is available in English and Spanish and consists of seven text messages, one per day for 7 days (and on WhatsApp if you choose the Spanish version). They include short and entertaining videos or quizzes that you can share to ensure Latino voices are heard during every election and during the time in between.

With a little thoughtfulness and cariño, we can break through all the noise and come together for ourselves, our families, and our communities.