Thinking about applying this technique to online discourse might seem absurd, as it is often the antithesis of what you see online. However, if we are motivated to help stem the tide of misinformation, we should strive to understand who we are trying to reach. Too often, the comment sections of social media platforms involve the loudest factions screaming at each other. This rarely, if ever, has the desired effect. However, what many of these commenters don’t realize is that the debate is being viewed by a silent majority of lurkers. Slightly interested and slightly informed, these masses should be the real target of your messaging. It takes a change in mindset to direct your messaging to a group of people who may never engage directly, but who are larger and potentially more receptive than those who have already made up their minds.
Here are three tips for reaching your intended audience on social media platforms:
- Choose messaging that reflects their values. Most people use online spaces to both reflect upon and construct their identity. Therefore, part of reaching people through social media is helping them realize how your message aligns with what they already want. While you don’t have access to the thousands of pieces of data that political campaigns and corporations do, you can use what you know about your network to reach people on an individual level. Whatever you have in common to connect you is a great place to start. Also, remember to keep your messaging “local and hopeful.” The average person is much more likely to engage with climate change content that is directly relevant to them and makes them feel like they can make an impact.
- Make comments appropriately. If you must comment, do so in a way that gives readers the space to be wrong and change their minds. Open-ended questions and inserting direct links to the evidence from publications people trust can be a great way to get people exploring the evidence on their own.
- Make the platforms do the work. You aren’t responsible for explaining the flaws with every piece of misinformation that materializes in front of your social network. While eventually platforms must wrestle with misinformation policy more broadly (and perhaps even take some responsibility), for now you can report individual posts, tweets or videos. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is the coward’s way out. We know that even passive exposure to fake ideas can lead to confusion, and that people rarely take the time to critically think about any of the overwhelming number of ideas exposed to them online.
The way that people gain access to information has changed so quickly that it is hard to know how far-reaching the impacts will be. For the next generation, they have the benefit not only of growing up with access to the internet, but also the existence of lessons designed to inoculate them against misinformation. To combat fake science in the adult population is going to take a lot of people working together, but it is becoming increasingly necessary to do so.