Social media has no shortage of family pictures, political memes and... unfortunately, inaccurate posts about vaccines from misguided friends. As a vaccine advocate, you don’t want to let the misinformation go unchallenged, but you also don’t want to make loved ones angry and leave them even more entrenched in their beliefs.
Here are seven things to keep in mind when responding to misinformation about vaccines from friends on social media.
Understand that there's a spectrum
Most people trust the science showing that vaccines are safe and effective. And sure, there is a small number of people who, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, believe with every fiber of their being that vaccines are harmful. But not everyone who has questions or posts negative things about vaccination is staunchly "anti-vaccine." We live in an age where there is a lot of information out there, and sometimes it is hard to know which sources to trust. Understanding where your friend falls on the spectrum can help you better understand why they may have posted the incorrect information.
Find common ground
It might seem counterintuitive, but finding a point on which you can agree is an important step toward having a respectful conversation. If there is a nugget of truth in the misinformation, acknowledge it. It signals that you aren't just looking for a fight and that you are willing to listen — even if it means saying simply: "Vaccine safety is important to me, too."
Respond to a friend's post — and only that post
If you're familiar with the devastating consequences of not vaccinating, it's tempting to read further into the post than what's there, but it's important to stay focused. Shape your response so that it addresses the specific bit(s) of misinformation in the post, rather than a broad criticism of vaccine opposition in general. It's important that your friend feels like they've been heard — so listen. If the post includes a link to an article, go in and read the article. That will help you identify the specific concern being expressed by your friend so that you can provide science-based info and resources to address that particular topic.
Very often misinforming posts include references to individuals who believe they have been injured in some way by vaccination. While it's true that severe side effects can occur (like a strong allergic reaction), those instances are extremely rare and pale in comparison to the devastating consequences of vaccine-preventable diseases. Still, those stories resonate because they connect on a personal level.
Science is a crucial component of combatting misinformation, but so are stories. Organizations like ShotByShot.Org, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Immunization Action Coalition and Texas Children's Hospital (to name just a few) all have a number of personal stories that show how families are affected by vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccination is often a very emotional issue, and stories can be helpful in demonstrating why vaccines are so important.
Remember — it’s not just your friend you’re talking to
You never know who will end up reading a tweet or a status, so when you respond to the post, you’re not just talking to your friend, you’re talking to everyone who might read it. Which is why it's so important to ...
As a vaccine advocate, you want everyone to be as passionate about vaccines as you are — trust us, we get it. But that likely won't happen with a simple Facebook exchange. Your goal should be to open a dialogue — not win an argument. Even if the discussion gets a little heated, launching an attack on the person's intelligence or character won't get you far, and it certainly won't change any hearts or minds. Combat the misinformation — not the misinformed.
Know when to bow out
On social media, arguments can get circular and heated. It's easy to fall into the trap of wanting to "win" a debate, but at a certain point you could wind up just talking past each other, or worse, leaving people more entrenched in their original positions and less likely to engage in conversation in the future. If the debate starts devolving, bow out gracefully.
What strategies have you found effective for addressing misinformation on social media? Let us know in the comments below!