A Guide to Arguing With a Snopes-Denier

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It happens all the time online. You see a piece of misinformation in your Facebook newsfeeds, and helpfully point out that no, Snopes has already debunked it as a myth, hoax, lie or misinterpretation of actual facts. Everyone walks away better informed, right?

"Snopes lol. Don't you have a real source?"

Responses like this are why half the keys in the center of my laptop stick after repeated meet-and-greets with my face. It's becoming an unfortunately more common response to attempts at educating people away from harmful propaganda and pseudoscience, and it's very hard to combat such willful ignorance. Hard, but not impossible.

First, let's get this out of the way. Snopes has been a respected debunker of lies and hoaxes online for almost two decades. No matter what WorldTruthTV or the like tell you, David and Barbara Mikkelson have consistently been interviewed and questioned over the course of their career and have passed every significant litmus test on their credibility, objectivity and trustworthiness. Are they totally unbiased beings of pure logic? No, those are Vulcans you're thinking of. They are, however, as reasonably nonpartisan as you could want.

That said, they are also an easy target for disdain and quotes about the "liberal media" or other accusations because no one likes being told that closely held illusions are in fact just that. Far easier to just set up the straw man, put on your Don Quixote costumes and scream "They might be giants" than examine why you're so keen on believing horrific stories about FEMA coffins or the bad behavior of Hurricane Katrina survivors.

The first thing to do with a Snopes denier is... nothing. Do not continue the initial conversation. You have already lost your stand, and can do nothing more here. Ultimately, you are having a different interaction from the one you think you are. You thought you were helpfully informing, but they think you're part of a misled general populace that just can't see the monsters in the shadows.

Just walk away and make a mental note of the person for next time.

The next time you come across a debunked chain mail or post, it's important for you to go look up the Snopes (Or Politifact or FactCheck) and read the article carefully. Pretend that you're going to give a presentation on the information for school or something like that. Remember, you can't lead someone to the link because he or she will simply deny the validity of the source. You, however, they presumably like at least a little bit, so if the argument comes from your mouth, then it will have more weight even though you are probably not an expert.

Keep your information short. Three sentences should be the absolute maximum. A reality-based world view is a bitter pill to swallow sometimes, and you're always better off taking it slow. Don't give them a wall of text to nitpick tiny tangents from at will. You are the rapier, not the warhammer.

I also find it helpful to be extremely self-deprecating. Indicate that you're not entirely sure about the whole thing (who is, after all) and always make it personal. This is what I read. This is what I think. It's very simple to wave away the words of faceless media, big corporations and politicians. They aren't real people, anyway, to the closed mind. It's harder to do so to someone you know.

Eventually, of course, you will need to cite your sources because that's the nature of the Internet. When this happens, the most important thing is to still not link to Snopes, etc. Instead, explore the article for the sources it drew upon. Most of the time these are plainly listed for all the big fact-checking sites (And conspicuously not for the quack ones). Link to local coverage, raw unedited videos, texts of laws, and reliable, non-partisan government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You will get way more mileage out of these than you will from the God-Mammon of Snopes, even though it is the exact same information.

You have to remember that the sort of person who readily subscribes to conspiracy theories already fears that there are vast, powerful forces maliciously allied against the areas of life that mean the most to them. Any denial of the threat increases the power of the threat by virtue of its being allowed to operate undetected. That the threat is no more real than the pile of clothes on the chair is a misshapen creature in the dark is immaterial. Who has ever successfully convinced a child that there isn't a monster under the bed on the first try?

No, it only comes about when night after night you show them evidence and they slowly come to believe it. With dedication and patience, you can also enlighten the Snopes-deniers by removing the object of their scorn. Stick with the facts, instead of relying on the presenter of the facts no matter how solid they have proven to be. In the process you become a teacher, and God knows the world needs more of them now than ever.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

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