A better way to battle misinformation

A better way to battle misinformation: alternative narratives

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Spend any amount of time on social media and you’ll likely come across misinformation about the work we do.

You’ll see videos of people doing the behaviors we’re trying to prevent and curb, like regular people “rescuing” marine mammals when they shouldn’t be.

You’ll see brands, like the Dodo, normalizing the ownership and captivity of species that should not be kept as pets.

You’ll see posts that undermine our efforts and point fingers in the wrong direction by claiming that ditching straws or eating less red meat doesn’t actually solve environmental problem.

And it’s all super frustrating.

Our instinct is to go head-to-head with false claims and damaging videos.

We want to confront it, correct it, and throw facts at it.

But that approach rarely ever works.

Check out this post by Marketing for Change on how debunking myths contributes to the spread of misinformation.

Trying to fight misinformation as it surfaces in a direct, head-to-head manner leads us into a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole where we never get ahead.

Alternative narratives is a better way

Instead of chasing and correcting every misleading headline, post, or comment on social media, we should focus on presenting alternative narratives.

Alternative narratives offer a different story, a different thread of information and truths, that audiences can choose to embrace.

It does so without requiring them to change their minds about what they already believe to be true.

As we know, asking people to change their minds is an uphill battle.

Where we encounter cognitive dissonance, endowment effects, ego and pride, reactance effects, and a whole lot more.

So, rather than convincing people that the truths they currently believe are wrong, we give them the option to shift their baseline of information towards something more right.

It’s the transition from saying: What you believe to be true is not true!

To: May I interest you in believing this instead?

[In technical terms, the audience has, in fact, changed their minds. But the goal is that they don’t FEEL like they’ve gone back on previous beliefs and instead have chosen to believe something new. I know it doesn’t sound linear or rational, but that’s human nature for ya.]

In essence, alternative narratives don’t require audiences to undo what they’ve already absorbed; it simply offers them another path forward.

Similar to how alternative behaviors work!

Putting it into practice

To create alternative narratives, we can focus our communication energy on the positive examples and stories out there. We can:

» Show real-life demonstrations of people doing the desired behaviors, and applaud them.

» Emphasize relevant descriptive or dynamic norms.

» Give feedback on how individual actions result in a growing collective impact.

» Highlight efforts and changes being made across all sectors to increase sustainability and reduce environmental footprints.

» Showcase early adopters and relevant messengers both supporting the cause and doing the desired behavior.

» Celebrate all the wins, large and small!

And let me be clear here: alternative narratives must be true and real.

This is not about fighting misinformation with more misinformation.

But I know these stories are out there and we’re not telling them nearly enough.

We NEED to see more of the above to tip the scales away from the rampant amount of misinformation shared online.

Which means it’s important to share these alternative narratives frequently and consistency – they can’t just be one-offs.

Channeling our energy into sharing what good looks like and the progress being made will work harder to create conservation movements than chasing down misinformation.

And I look forward to seeing more of these alternative narratives in my social media feeds.