How to fact-check your family at the Thanksgiving table
Thanksgiving is a time for turkey, football, pie — and political arguments with your relatives.
PolitiFact read the research and spoke to experts about how to best fact-check someone in person. Below are six tips (presented in order of deployment) to help you navigate politics during Thanksgiving.
1. Pick your battles The No. 1 rule of fact-checking someone’s false statement is knowing when to drop it.
“You’re not obligated to talk about politics on Thanksgiving, and you’re not obligated to correct misstatements on Thanksgiving,” said Ethan Porter, an assistant professor at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs. “There’s nothing wrong with staying away from politics and setting aside the conversation for another day.”
Correcting a specific fact is easier than getting people to change their opinions, according to experts — but only if you actually have knowledge about the subject. (Keep reading for impeachment facts.) 2. Consider the setting If you decide you’re going to correct someone, think about where and in what company you’re going to do it.
“There’s value in making corrections at some point,” said Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “One of the questions you have to ask yourself is: Do I want to make these at the Thanksgiving dinner table?”
Markman said that most Thanksgiving dinners are pretty large, so any verbal fact-check runs the risk of grandstanding. It’s usually more effective to correct people in smaller settings, either one-on-one or in small groups of people.
3. Rehearse your correction It can be tempting to jump into the conversation about topics you’re passionate about. But before doing so, test how much you actually know about the topic.
“It’s hard to be effective in debunking someone else’s false beliefs if it turns out you can’t articulate what you believe in enough detail to demonstrate mastery of that concept,” said Markman.
This problem is an academic concept called the “illusion of explanatory depth.” In essence, it says that people tend to overestimate how much they know about any given topic. Rehearsing your fact-check is one way to overcome that illusion.
4. Approach with understanding Corrections are an implicit form of criticism. So instead of immediately telling someone they’re wrong, try to broach the subject by first establishing some common ground. If you’re talking about immigration, for example, say that you also value border security and understand where your relative is coming from. Then, pivot to the corrective information.
“Focus on understanding rather than correcting,” Markman said. “The most important thing in all of that is really to try not to come off as a know-it-all.”
5. Use sources wisely The backbone of a PolitiFact fact-check is its source list. And the same thing goes for in-person corrections.
Research shows that sources can make or break a fact-check. However, the kind of source you use could make all the difference. Try to find someone who the person respects who has used the correct information.
6. Accept that you can check their facts, but you probably won’t change their views Fact-checking changes minds, not votes — a finding that is supported by research on the effect of corrections.
“Providing a correction, even though it improves accuracy, is not going to turn someone from one political party to another. It may not change their underlying views on the policy issue at hand,” Porter said.
Which takes us back to tip No. 1: What’s your goal behind fact-checking your relatives at Thanksgiving? If it goes beyond trying to correct the record, you might want to think twice before spoiling dessert.