What's wrong with not being confrontational

Just don't get loud

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Don't let the conversation escalate

Even if it is often difficult for those around you to contain yourself when confronted with increasingly absurd conspiracy narratives, it remains important that conversations do not escalate. That means: Don't get loud, let each other finish speaking, no swearwords. Do not be condescending or instructive. If the other person has the feeling that you do not take someone seriously, one of the essential requirements for a conversation is missing. It is possible to be clear about the content and at the same time to signal to your counterpart that you are still holding out an outstretched hand. You can show that you disagree with the content, but still not devalue the person. The sentence "I have the feeling that you have been sharing more and more content lately, the position of which I do not share" comes across very differently than when someone says: "How can you spread such nonsense, are you stupid?"

Talking to conspirators is like a tightrope act in many ways. The Swiss advice center infoSekta puts it this way: "Basically, it is advisable not to argue too confrontationally so that the other person doesn't feel devalued or cornered. Rather, an attempt should be made to gain access to the emotional background. This is what matters to bring the person affected from a phase of not wanting to be true and defensive to the phase of ambivalences. "

Ask questions

When dealing with conspiracy believers, you should note that factual debunking alone, i.e. the argumentative refutation of conspiracy narratives, will not work in many cases. Fact checks or studies are particularly difficult to get through to people who are already firmly established in their belief in a conspiracy. It becomes particularly problematic when one can no longer come up with a common denominator in basic assumptions about the world. Important bodies of trust - from science to the media - are unceremoniously declared to be part of the respective conspiracy. A die-hard conspiracy believer no longer trusts a fact check that comes from alleged "system media". In such situations, it can help to ask more specific questions that encourage the other person to put their own assumptions to the test. For example: Why do you think this person is an expert? Why are only excerpts shown here? Has the platform you are referring to spread false reports in the past?

Stay empathic

Regardless of which approach you choose when dealing with conspiracy believers in your immediate environment - do not lose sight of the human component. "Often the conspiracy theory is more of a placeholder for deeper underlying uncertainties," writes the Sekten-Info Nordrhein-Westfalen. "If these are identified, targeted support can be provided. If the affected person experiences an improvement in the problems, the conspiracy theories may no longer be so important." Psychological research has shown that an important factor in why people turn to conspiracy narratives is the feeling that they cannot make a difference themselves. If it is possible to strengthen the feeling of self-efficacy again, i.e. to appeal to the fact that the other person is not at the mercy of everything negative, this can have a positive overall effect. Don't forget: If you show empathy for difficult life circumstances or offer help, this can in some cases be a more decisive factor than the best factual argument. Those who manage to build an emotional bridge to their counterparts can later use this path to penetrate arguments more easily.

Show your clear edge

In all efforts to avoid escalations, however, one important point must not be forgotten. It is essential to clearly identify anti-Semitic or racist statements as such. In the wake of the corona pandemic, many anti-Semitic or racist conspiracy stories are spread on social networks. Anyone who observes something like this should speak back and draw a clear line. Mind you, it is less about convincing the distributors of such content. Rather, it is about the quiet readers who are signaled with public contradiction: something like that is not okay! This also applies to family or friends: Show civil courage, even in private.

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Contact advice centers

One prejudice persists with regard to conspiracy narratives: that believers in conspiracies are either "crackpots" or "stupid people". Studies show that belief in conspiracy narratives is widespread throughout society (Zick et al., 2019). Neither financial prosperity nor a high level of education protect against drifting into such a parallel world. Even so, especially when it comes to family members, there is often a feeling of shame. Relatives ask themselves: "Am I complicit? Should I have intervened earlier?" Such thoughts sometimes prevent those around you from seeking professional help. That is fatal, after all it is usually much easier to get through to those affected who are not yet firmly established in their belief in a conspiracy ideology. Unfortunately, there are currently not many offices in Germany that those affected can turn to in such a situation - although more and more people are looking for support. Nevertheless, you are not completely alone. Sect advice centers such as in North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-W├╝rttemberg or Berlin have integrated the subject of conspiracy theories into their advisory work, as the transition between the conspiracy scene and sects is often fluid. The mobile counseling services against right-wing extremism offer help for right-wing extremist groups.

Conclusion

Overall, significantly more offers are needed that specifically deal with how conspiracy narratives are to be dealt with. Above all, politics is in demand. The topic has been neglected and trivialized for too long. Civil society initiatives require stable, reliable and, above all, sufficient funding in order to act against these ideologies. Funding that ensures that people can stand by their side when friends or family members turn to radical conspiracy narratives. We also need more resources for organizations that advise people who are victims of hate speech and false accusations by conspiracy ideologues. Because only when people know that in case of doubt they will not be left alone can they confidently defend themselves against hatred and agitation. There is also a need for more critical media education in schools as well as in other educational institutions so that people become more confident in evaluating sources. More research is needed to better understand the phenomenon. Above all, however, a long-term social debate is needed as to how we want to deal with the phenomenon of belief in conspiracies. After all, the topic concerns us all - not just in times of Corona.