Covid-19 conspiracy theories: 6 tips on how to engage anti-vaxxers

A protester holds an anti-vaccination sign as supporters of President Donald Trump rally to reopen California as the coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen, on May 16, 2020, in Woodland Hills, California. Coronavirus conspiracy theories fuel anti-vaccination protests.

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(The Conversation)With prospects of a Covid-19 vaccine looking up, attention is also turning to the problem of anti-vax ideas. According to a recent survey, one in six Britons would refuse a Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available. Although vaccine hesitancy is a complex problem with multiple causes, the number of conspiracy theories circulating about the coronavirus do not help.

The fight against Covid-19-related conspiracy theories will be fought on multiple fronts. It requires a broad public health campaign and for social media companies to control the spread of disinformation. But all of us can play a part in this effort. Most people will know someone who has succumbed to conspiracy theories about the current crisis.
    I have been researching conspiracy theories for over two decades and have spoken to many believers. Here are the six rules I use for talking to conspiracy theorists in the effort to change their mind.

      1. Acknowledge scale of the task

      Talking to people who endorse conspiracy theories is inherently difficult. Simply laying out evidence or pointing out logical contradictions in the conspiracist argument is seldom enough. Conspiracy theories are, by definition, irrefutable.
      Lack of evidence of a conspiracy, or positive proof against its existence, is taken by believers as evidence of the craftiness of those behind the plot, and their ability to dupe the public. So arm yourself with patience, and be prepared to fail.

        2. Recognize the emotional dimension

        Conspiracy theories seduce not so much through the power of argument, but through the intensity of the passions that they stir. Underpinning conspiracy theories are feelings of resentment, indignation and disenchantment about the world. They are stories about good and evil, as much as about what is true.
        This gives conspiracy theories a strong emotional dimension. Tempers can flare and conversations turn into a shouting match. It is important to prevent this from happening. Be prepared to de-escalate the situation and keep the dialogue going, without necessarily giving ground.

        3. Find out what they actually believe

        Before trying to persuade someone, find out the nature and content of his beliefs. When it comes to conspiracy theories, the world is not divided into "believers" and "skeptics" -- there's a lot in between.
        A minority of committed believers treat conspiracy theories as the literal truth and are particularly resistant to persuasion. Many others might not see themselves as "believers," but are willing to accept that conspiracy theorists might be onto something and are at least asking the right questions. Establishing the precise nature, and extent, of someone's belief, will enable you to better tailor your response.