Conspiracy theorists in the field: What to do?

Conspiracy theorists in the field
What to do if arguments no longer work?

© Oleg Golovnev / Shutterstock

When her friend starts spreading conspiracy theories, Ute * still believes she can convince her objectively. A mistake.

It must have been two or three years since she posted the link to a study: "Supporters of conspiracy theories are smarter!" Those who distrust media and institutions, it said, are characterized by IQ and creative thinking. "This is for everyone who criticizes my worldview!" Wrote Monika * with a wink emoji. I felt addressed.

But from the beginning. You and I have known each other for decades. In smoky bars we talked hotly about literature, society and relationships. Her life was very different from mine. But politically we were on a similar spectrum, at least I thought. More left, critical, social.

Another person on the net

A few years ago Monika got a social media account and for the first time I thought: I don't know this woman on the net. I still recognized some things – such as worries about climate change – and looked at others with no understanding, helpless or even dismay. How could she suspect the German government of supporting a war in Ukraine? Or defend a friend of the "Reichsbürger": "Xavier Naidoo shouldn't sing at the Eurovision Song Contest? It's like being banned from performing in the GDR!"

I held against it. Our online discussions were consuming more time every day. I thought: It just lacks the right classification. It wasn't as if she thought the earth was flat or Angela Merkel thought it was a lizard person. Finally I invited her to red wine and offline conversation. And realized for the first time what it means to discuss with conspiracy theorists: It's like trying to catch a fish underwater with your bare hands. For every argument they have five counter-arguments, allegedly from sources that do not fit "the powerful". The toughest fact check is of no use if your counterpart considers everything to be bought and manipulated that does not fit into his worldview. Monika is convinced that there are a lot of secret agreements between states, the military, the media, and corporations. A great plan.

Try brainwashing

With the third glass of red wine it occurred to me that she too had hoped to put me on the right track. Nevertheless we said goodbye warmly. After that I felt like I was brainwashed. Still, I was determined to save our friendship. Even if we could only talk about travel, sports or books.

Meanwhile I know that this is not possible. The crack went through almost every subject, the elephant in the room got too big. Appointments became rarer, we stopped commenting on each other on social media. The algorithm remembers this, so I hardly ever get your posts displayed. When it happened the other day, I read: "Masks take away the air our children breathe!" For a moment I thought about unfriending her. And then let it go. She didn't do anything to me. But I have given up hope of shaking their worldview.

* Name changed

How to talk to conspiracy theorists

Find the conversation and listen. Do not make fun of the other person.

Stay factual and to the facts. Instructions are provided in the brochure "Conspiracy ideologies and fake news – recognize and refute" by the association "Der goldene Aluhut" (

Try to find out what is behind believing in a conspiracy theory. Often it is a need for control, triggered by insecurity or fear. Take them seriously and look for solutions together.

If you get stuck with facts, forensic psychologist Dr. Roland Imhof on a meta level: "Both sides should ask themselves: What could speak against my theory? " This is how you can trigger doubts and self-critical questioning.

We often say: what can I do? But there is more in our power than we think.

Would you like to read more about the topic and exchange ideas with other women? Then take a look at the "Personality Forum.""Of the BRIGITTE community!

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BRIGITTE 25/2020