The Jaw Dropper can surface without warning. You’ll be swapping holiday greetings on Facebook or making small talk at the office holiday party when someone interjects a stunning revelation not being covered by “the mainstream media.” Just one problem: Their incredible “fact” isn’t true.
Fake news — info spread by those with an agenda and little regard for the truth — isn’t new. During the 1920s, for example, the short-lived Saturday Press of Minneapolis was taken to court for running big, fat whoppers. But with the dissemination of information growing more sophisticated in today’s society, you’re more likely than ever to be confronted by claims with as much credibility as those tales about a dude named Santa Claus.
The Jaw Dropper may be intended to blow your mind, but it’s more likely that you’ll blow a fuse. In an effort to help minimize the number of popped blood vessels, we asked four Minnesotans who maneuver the political minefield on a daily basis, socially and professionally, for guidance.
Tom Hauser, political reporter, host of “At Issue” for KSTP, Ch. 5
“I deal with it all the time online. When it’s on my Twitter account, I do try to set the record straight. I want people to realize that some guy’s erroneous comments are not the last word. But after a couple of times corresponding with that person, you have to let it alone. You can’t ultimately win.
“If you’re really interested in a political discussion and trying to relate to them, you have to keep your cool. Say, ‘I believe the source you are citing is not legitimate. Why don’t you do a little more research?’ After that, there’s not much you can do about it. The key is not to make it personal. Otherwise, you can get emotional about it. A cold beer when I come home from work at night does help take the edge off.”
Catherine Squires, University of Minnesota professor, author of “The Post-Racial Mystique: Media and Race in the Twenty-First Century”
“Let the other person know that you’ve heard what they’ve said. Say, ‘I don’t understand where you got that information, because it contradicts everything that I’ve read, but you sound really angry.’ Try not to get into a confrontation. You can bow out without giving credence to what they’ve said.
“With a family member, it may be different, because you might really want to convince them to consult different information. Again, it’s really important to listen to them, even if you have to grit your teeth. Repeat back what they’ve said. When they hear it, sometimes they hear the crazy themselves. Even if they don’t, they can’t accuse you of not hearing them. Then introduce them to your information. Research shows that when you tell people that what they’re saying is not true, they get more defensive and are more likely to cling to the false information.”
John Hinderaker, president of the Center of the American Experiment, co-creator of Power Line political blog
“Don’t assume it’s your job to set your relatives straight. The best course is to ask them to pass the potatoes and try to change the subject. If someone really can’t follow that advice and you really feel like you need to say something, the most effective method is to gently suggest they look something up without going into great detail.
“But I almost never argue about politics in public. I’ve got a website for that. Anyone who sees a holiday party or a family gathering as a chance to score political points is completely insane.”
Dan Barreiro, talk-show host on KFAN-FM and KMSP, Ch. 9’s “Enough Said”
“I know this is going to sound odd based on what I do for a living, but I tend to be far less confrontational in social settings than I am on the air. It just gets too exhausting. You have to pick and choose when you want to go into battle. When someone you’re only going to see once a year uses fake news or is clearly making it up as they go along, realize that you’re not going to change them.
“The tricky thing is when you’re with that person for three or four days and you reach a breaking point. Try to avoid a meltdown. Say, ‘Can we please not go there?’ Yes, with a couple clicks, you can go to a website and show people how ridiculous their statements are, but what they’re going to say is, ‘Oh, that’s the Huffington Post. Of course they’re going to say that.’ I find in social situations that people are pleasant in conversations 100 percent of the time, as long as booze isn’t involved.”