OMG, my opponent is lying!
It is a very difficult thing to counter lies, especially ones consciously engineered as part of a large, well funded and relentless propaganda effort. Calling out the lies may be necessary, but it is not sufficient —and potentially counterproductive.
In general, baiting us to respond to propaganda is the prime directive of propagandists, for when we respond to the lies, the conversation happens within the frame the propagandist has chosen. Responding lets the propagandist set the agenda and control our messaging.
If we attempt to head it off by telling people “They said this and that and it’s all a lie”, we repeat the lie which neurologically repeats and strengthens the lie. It also risks spreading the lie to people who have never heard it.
Uncertainty is another goal of the propagandist. Keep everyone constantly guessing as to what the truth really is and thinking there is something to actually argue about -even about easily proven and settled truths. Arguing with the liar furthers this goal.
Yet another goal of the propagandist, and one we fall for far too often, is to create so many absurd things for us to get incensed about and respond to that we spend less and less time conveying our messages in the value frames we have chosen. How many of our own conversations are about what our opponents say and how many are about making well framed messages to promote our worldview? My observation is that we spend way, way, way too much time thinking about and talking about the other guy. Just as the propagandists intend.
In short, responding is not your best option.
This is not to say the truth should not be known or spoken; there’s a time and place —and a messenger, maybe not you. Rather we must choose first and most often to convey our messages in our frames and spend little if any of our precious messaging time responding to the bait the propagandists put on the hook for us.
If we find that we simply must address the lies, do it in a Truth Sandwich:
- Say the truth: why we* care about the issue at hand (i.e., our values) and how the issue affects real people.
- Indicate the lies and the liars without using the code-words and frames of the opponent, and say how the lie violates our shared values.
- Return to our values and our solutions and why they benefit everyone. Ask people to join us in making them happen.
Use this when you have an audience. Your goal is not to get your opponent to change his mind (this is not debate club) but to get others listening in to say “Yeah that violates my values and I like the solutions I’m hearing.
If we learn and practice well framed messages about our shared values, we’ll most often use them and far less time helping the propagandists further their goals.
* Alternately “we” can explicitly state whomever it is the propagandists seek to divide. EX: “All of us rich or poor, black or white, religious or not want our children educated…”