How to help a loved one who is caught in a web of conspiracy theories

A person holds a "Q" sign standing for "QAnon."
Guests cheer for President Donald Trump as he speaks at a rally to show support for Ohio Republican congressional candidate Troy Balderson on Aug. 4, 2018 in Lewis Center, Ohio.
Scott Olson | Getty Images

Conspiracy theories flourished in 2020. Between a pandemic, protests over the police killing of George Floyd and a fraught election that the president himself falsely claimed he won, a growing number of people believe things that simply aren’t true.

If losing a shared sense of reality is difficult for democracy, it’s even harder on personal relationships. Those who’ve lost a loved one to a conspiracy theory like QAnon say it’s almost impossible to combat.

Psychologists agree. Conspiracy theories are especially attractive during uncertain times, and multifaceted ideas like QAnon also function like an “unusually absorbing alternate-reality game,” which makes it especially hard for adherents to break free.

Tuesday, MPR News host Kerri Miller tackled the second show in a series about disinformation. Earlier this month, she talked to two experts about how disinformation is spreading so rapidly. This week, she investigated how to help a loved one who is immersed in disinformation.

Guests:

  • Steven Hassan is an expert in cults and deprogramming and is the founding director of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center. 

  • Mick West is a science communicator who debunks conspiracy theories online and is the author of “Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories using Facts, Logic and Respect.”

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or RSS

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