Source of article The Jury Room - Keene Trial Consulting.

We like PSMag for their ability to summarize scientific research in clear language. Here’s an article written by Nathan Collins that offers some insights from a researcher who has ideas on how to get some people who are conspiracy theorists to consider another perspective. 

Apparently there is a growing body of research supporting the idea that we can take a direct approach to debunking conspiracy beliefs. Perhaps it is all the focus on “fake news” and the sheer numbers of people now fact-checking when they see a somewhat unbelievable story. Whatever has caused this to happen—it is good news for those of us who are unfortunate enough to find we have conspiracy fans on our juries. (We’ve blogged about conspiracy theorists a lot here and you might want to go read our collection for additional insights and recommendations.)

Here are two strategies Nathan Collins recommends to more effectively debunk conspiracy beliefs based on new research:

Make sure the debunking information you present comes from a reliable source—and remember—different people find different sources “reliable” or not. One of the researchers recommends you go with people who are speaking against their own interests since they are often are more credible. 

The question is asked about who you would find more credible if you listened to sources saying “don’t eat french fries”: McDonald’s or the Surgeon General?

Take a cue from late-night comedy “news” shows and use “contextual fact-checking”. This is a fancy term for a sidebar containing additional and accurate background information on a news story. This debunks without the speaker actually addressing it. 

Stephen Colbert used to do this brilliantly on The Colbert Report. Here’s an example. 

There are some intriguing additional details in this story and we encourage you to read the whole thing (it’s about three and a half pages long). Here’s the closing paragraph: 

Yet there remains some hope. Fact checking politicians might help keep them honest, Nyhan and frequent co-author Jason Reifler found in 2014—and fact checking is something news media is generally taking more seriously. Then there was the news on Monday that Apple, YouTube, Facebook, and Spotify all but booted one of the most popular sources of conspiracies, Alex Jones, from their sites, suggesting that maybe something might start to change.

As another resource, the Poynter website has complied a list of eight different two-minute videos to teach people to identify “fake news”. You may find this useful to ponder as you consider debunking firmly held beliefs for your next trial. 

From a litigation advocacy perspective, there is always room for learning new strategies to attempt to mitigate powerful influences on juror-decision-makers. These two resources will give you several strategies to consider incorporating into your next trial. 

Collin, N. (August 8, 2018) How to tackle conspiracy theories in politics. PSMag: https://psmag.com/news/how-to-tackle-conspiracy-theories-in-politics. 

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