How to talk to a conspiracy theorist -- and still be kind

Originally published at:


I suppose this might be useful…

…never mind.


Teach them fact based reality as if they were children. Got it.


Life is too short to engage with people peddling ridiculous conspiracy theories. My how-to starts and ends with that.


Surprisingly in legal practice I found that explaining things to people like they are 12 year olds has been a very successful strategy for dealing with clients and judges. They appreciate the effort to break things down without use of jargon, ambiguous language or condescension.


No mention of small words and crayon use. Sad.


Ignoring that they’re about “preschoolers”, Mr. Rogers’ rules would work for teaching conspiracy theorists (and really all people)

  1. “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.”
  2. “Rephrase in a positive manner”
  3. “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers your audience cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.”
  4. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.”
  5. “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.”
  6. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to everyone.”
  7. “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers your audience a reason to follow your advice.”
  8. “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.”
  9. “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler your audience can understand.”

Hey, isn’t this exactly the kind of ploy the lizard-people would use?


I’m sorry but this coddling mentality is what got us Trump. Being kind to these idiots has only ever made them feel empowered. We need to stop pandering to this idiocy because it is literally killing us.


Stop worrying about shutting down a dialogue with an imbecile that was never interested in intellectual honesty to begin with. Start caring about actual human lives


I’m a technical writer, and my whole job, one could say, is helping people explain things. The repetition method is generally useful, and should not be seen as condescending. It is simply being aware of how our brains work. It’s just as true and simple as, if you frame something positively instead of negatively, you will get more compliance. Anyone who thinks they should be able to persuade people while being negative and insulting and obscure either has little experience with people or is more concerned about feeling “right” then about reaching their audience. And, don’t get me wrong, feeling “alone and right” is a powerful feeling. If that’s what you want, go ahead and ignore the advice in the article.

  1. Put the shotgun in your mouth because you are trying to appeal to elected representatives in the form of preschoolers

The tin foil brigade got my best friend; I couldn’t “be kind” to such willful idiots if I wanted to.


The “truth sandwich” is what the expert describes and has been shown to be the best way to refute false information without, as much as possible, accidentally reinforcing the false info.

debunk lie

Not quite the right name for it, but that is what I heard it called a while back. Truth Oreo?


Note that the authors are writing from a place on Reddit where people are presumably open to having their mind changed, as opposed to trying to convince a shrieking child that they don’t actually want ice cream.


Nah, can’t be done. Someone who is inclined to believe in a conspiracy theory (by definition a theory without supporting evidence) believes it in spite of all contrary evidence, and no amount of gentle reasoning or logic is going to get them to change their mind.

Humans are largely creatures of emotion. They believe what they are already inclined to believe more strongly when you try to show them that they in error. Facts and evidence just make them dig their heels in harder. The only person that can be persuaded to change their mind is one who hasn’t yet fully made up their mind and is truly seeking more info. Conspiracy nuts are already high on their own supply.



Most people within a specialist community aren’t using jargon to be exclusionary. (Sure, some of them are, but we’ve already established that some people are just jerks naturally.)
We just have a tendency to use shortcuts to save time, and it’s amazing how often that leads to more confusion rather than less if the conversation involves someone from outside of said community.


As one who sometimes tends to believe certain conspiracy theories, but is still open to rational discourse, I have to agree that the least-effective response is the condescending eye-roll or annoyed dismissal. I appreciate people who are patient & willing to help me think things through by asking questions, checking facts, & gently introducing doubt. Especially those who keep in mind that MK-Ultra was once a conspiracy theory. COINTELPRO was a conspiracy theory. The existence of the Contras was a conspiracy theory. The Tuskegee syphilis study was a conspiracy so evil as to be unbelievable to many. And I was thinking this morning that once the Orange Guy in the White House is gone, we will still have to live with his followers. How will we do it? We need to think about this now.


Respond to any conspiracy theory with: “That’s just what they want you to believe!”