Supplying an alternative explanation of facts alone will not change the minds of those people, who already bought the disinformation. In some cases, the efforts to put the story straight only serve to further entrench erroneous convictions. Is there a way to avoid this trap?
The Debunking Handbook by John Cook and Stephen Lewandowski describes 3 ways to effectively cripple a false story.
Do not reinforce the myth. Instead of concentrating on the myth and likely strengthening it in the process, stick to the key facts. Do not mention the myth in the headline, providing crucial and correct information instead.
Warn against lies in advance. Every time you give an example of a myth, be sure to signal its appearance first, e.g. by adding a caption like ‘Look out! What you are about to read is not true!’. Similarly, instead of simply copying a photomontage, paste a visible ‘FALSE’ warning, instantly alerting viewers to the fact that they are dealing with a lie.
Fill the void left by the myth. Debunking a myth should be accompanied by a reliable explanation of the underlying facts. If you are putting the source of information into doubt, make sure to give your rationale to the audience.
Remember that an overabundance of information and undue complexity are not conducive to debunking myths.
Choose 3 essential facts you want to convey. Use simple language and short, clear sentences. Avoid emotional statements and judging.
Adjust the communication to recipients’ level. Create several versions of your argumentation: easy (simple language illustrated with graphics), intermediate and advanced (progressively including more technical vocabulary, details, sources etc.).
If the information you shared turned out to be false, update it as soon as possible and explain why the error occurred in the first place.
Creative methods of delivering true stories are becoming more prominent over the Web, thanks to a growing number of fact-checking portals, in English (e.g. Snopes.com, PolitiFact.com, Bellingcat.com), and other languages (e.g. Polish Mitologia Współczesna, CrazyNauka czy Konkret24). You can also find examples of good practices in verifying materials documenting crimes and violations concerning human rights provided by the Digital Verification Corps under Amnesty International and in cooperation with the Investigations Lab of University of California Berkeley’s Human Rights Center.
All of those portals explain in minute details why the information is false and what really happened. Their distinctive approach is characterized by abundance of explanatory photos and screenshots, showing the viewer what to look for. Some teams, like the earlier mentioned BBC’s Africa Eye, provide their explanations in the form of videos.