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In discussions about today’s hot-button issues, some people don’t just disagree on how to interpret reality — they seem to operate from different realities altogether. This can create clashing sets of facts as well as clashing opinions.

Differences can come from cherry-picking information that supports one opinion while downplaying information that buttresses another. Things get more confusing and fraught when falsehoods gain traction on social media, in news sources, or among gatherings of the like-minded.

It’s enough of a challenge when a friend or family member’s opinions on tough topics differ sharply from yours. But when they embrace and share false or inaccurate information (which is different from creating and spreading disinformation, or information that is intended to mislead), you can feel confused and desperate. You may begin to see them differently — and you might wonder whether it is your responsibility to help them understand that they are misinformed.

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD, author of Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict, offers some helpful advice about how to stay connected with people who have fallen victim to misinformation — without compromising your well-being.

Stress Source

You don’t know what to believe when people you know and trust share inflammatory content. You may be inclined to believe what those close to you share — but something about the content doesn’t sit right.

You don’t know how to determine what is and what isn’t misinformation. It can be tough to differentiate legitimate information and news from that which is false or misleading.

When you’re nearly or totally certain the information is false, you may feel anxious about how to respond. “It introduces a potential conflict with that person,” Coleman says. “Am I going to have to disagree with them? Should I try to prove them wrong? Give them space and hear them out?

You may feel discouraged, disappointed, or betrayed when people you care about share misinformation. Coleman points out that when friends or family members champion falsehoods, it may reveal an unexpected gulf between you. Recognizing that distance could lead you to feel confused or let down.

When misinformation is shared online by someone you interact with, you’re tempted to ignore it. You might pretend you didn’t see it or simply scroll past it. You may feel disingenuous for not engaging, but you may question whether engaging will do any good.

You become reactive when misinformation comes up in conversation. Your own anxiety and anger may make the tension between you and the other person worse. (Do you tend to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation, or mount a major defense to even the slightest criticism? See “How to Stop Overreacting” for strategies to tame your response.)

Others react negatively when you object to, or try to counter, the misinformation. You might be uncertain about how to advance or even de-escalate the conversation. The risk is intensified online, where you risk inviting a pile-on.

Success Strategies

Do some research. The first step is verifying the information you come across with a variety of reputable sources, including fact-checking sites like

On social media, misinformation-based points of view often appear extreme, but a lot of misinformation is based on a kernel of truth. If you seek the source of the idea, you may be able to find a small basis for agreement — or at least get a sense of the core value or belief that underlies the opinion. (For more on spotting misinformation, visit “7 Ways to Spot Misinformation on Social Media.”)

Consider your bandwidth, as well as what’s truly important to you. Know that it’s not your responsibility to ensure your social circle is well-informed, and it’s OK if you’re unable to expend that emotional energy. If you do decide that stopping the spread of misinformation is worth it, be realistic and keep the health of the relationship in mind.

“It’s hard to change anybody’s beliefs about anything,” says Coleman. “They cherish their beliefs, even if they aren’t ­rational or well-founded, and if your goal is to preserve the relationship, it’s really ­important to let go of the need to prove the other person wrong and yourself right.”

Choose the right forum and context. Social media is often an unproductive place to discuss misinformation with people you care about because the atmosphere of on­line spaces can be heated and intense.

“Generally, face-to-face is better for relationships that are really important to you,” Coleman says. “But for some people, communicating over text or email might be the best option, because you and the other person are less likely to get pulled into a fight. You have the time to more or less curate what you want to say and then send it knowing that your respondent has more time to respond too.”

Be generous. When someone shares misinformation, they may think they are helping others see the truth. Giving them the benefit of the doubt on that score, even as you disagree with them, can help you stay calm in an exchange.

Coleman points out that the sharers probably want to preserve their relationship with you, too, so emphasizing your desire to stay on good terms may be met with a positive response.

See if you can find common ground. The next step in handling these conversations is making sure the other person is heard. Then acknowledge where you and the other person can agree. “You can start by listening respectfully and reflecting back what they’re saying — ‘I hear you telling me XYZ, is that right?’” Coleman says.

If you found some truth in what they’re saying, you can say so. This does not indicate that you need to go all the way, or even partway, with the misinformed belief.

Although he and his brother have different political opinions, Coleman notes that they share certain convictions, such as a concern for working people. “I can meet him there, and that helps diffuse the tension when I go on to say that I’m skeptical of the theory he’s advocating.”

Step away from the conversation, or even the relationship, if it’s going nowhere. You can affirm the relationship even as you exit the situation, says Coleman. That exit may involve leaving the room or taking some time off from someone to regroup.

“When you are really at a logjam, with the other person insisting on discussing the misinformation,” he adds, “you can say something like this: ‘You know, these conversations about this topic don’t ever seem to go well for either of us, do they? They certainly don’t for me, and I just don’t feel like it’s productive for us to debate about this. I feel like it’s not good for our relationship to keep coming back to these topics.’”

If you decide to step away from the relationship, you may find yourself ready to return after you’ve had some time to reflect and recenter. Ideally, the other person will have done the same, and you can resume the relationship with mutual care and respect.


For more inspiration and strategies to overcome life’s challenges, please visit our Renewal department.

This article originally appeared as “True Friends, False Information” in the March/April 2024 issue of Experience Life.

Jon Spayde

Jon Spayde is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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