How to fight misinformation in a world of information

In an increasingly politically polarized world, farmers know all too well how difficult it can be to get an opportunity to present their facts or make their point. Equally difficult is getting your audience to pause long enough to listen, consider, and open themselves up to the possibility that new information may be more factually correct than what they currently hold to be true.

This is because, for most people, new lines of thinking and reasoning can feel awkward, weird and just plain wrong.

The reason for this is that our worldviews influence the way we think, hear, speak and assess situations. Since people’s worldviews are strongly linked to their sense of identity, they play a major role in the acceptance and persistence of misinformation.

Seth Godin says, “One reason it’s difficult to understand each other is that behind the words we use are the worldviews, the emotions and beliefs we have before we even consider what’s being said.”

Refuting misinformation involves a lot of complex cognitive processes since it involves restyling firmly held beliefs AND offering up new evidence that potentially threatens one’s worldviews – and all in such a  way that it resonates with the listener. There are two solutions that can help: teach people to think critically from the start and use words that demonstrate an understanding and appreciation for an individual’s worldviews.

Survival Tip

Critical thinking – the “objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment” – is a skill. It’s about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of [mis]information. And since it is a skill, it can be learned and honed just like learning to play an instrument.

Critical thinking skills can help you:

  • Understand the links between ideas.
  • Determine the importance and relevance of arguments and ideas.
  • Recognize, build and appraise arguments.
  • Identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning.
  • Approach problems in a consistent and systematic way.
  • Reflect on the justification of assumptions, beliefs and values.[1]

The best way to train yourself to think critically is outlined in the cheat sheet below. Essentially, it comes down to asking the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, why – and one ‘H’: how) in such a way that we broaden our scope of analysis and consideration for the facts by exploring the pros and cons.

We can also use the power of words and the way their nuanced subtleties work on the brain. Find words that resonate with your audience to help them connect emotionally to your presentation/conversation/blog post and which will also guide them through a logical and critical thought process.

Take, for example, the words ‘responsibility’ and ‘fairness.’ Depending on your worldviews, each of these may trigger a very different reaction.

Also consider this example: “I’m going to tell you how farming works” versus “I’d like to explain how farming works. Would you be interested to know more?” Which do you think would better engage your audience?

Using words that pique people’s natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge rather than their defense mechanisms and cynicism will help them critically think through the facts and arguments, resulting in less “us-versus-them.” It’s also important to apply these skills and knowledge to ourselves so we can understand why someone might think the way they do and lead the way to more meaningful conversations.

Farmers and consumers don’t always see eye to eye, but if we all trained ourselves to think more critically, we could shift our worldviews to more cooperative viewpoints, find common ground upon which to base deeper and more purposeful conversations, and turn misinformation into information.

“Once we understand the landscape that someone sees, we have an easier time using words and images to fill in that landscape, to create a story they can hear and understand, and, perhaps, we can make change happen.” – Seth Godin


Critical thinking

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