Three Tips for Talking to Believers in QAnon Conspiracies

QAnon followers believe they’ve been enlightened and it’s their job to enlighten you, much like a religious cult.

QAnon conspiracies include wild claims about satanic, cannibalistic, child-exploiting cabals and feature hidden codes and shadowy villains. When talking to a believer, you might be tempted to hit them with reason and facts. But logic isn’t always the right strategy to fight irrational conspiracies. Here are three tips for talking with friends and family members who have become believers.

Listen before trying to argue

While logic may seem like the anecdote to illogical theories, it’s likely that approach will only backfire. You'll get farther with a QAnon follower if you show you're willing to listen.

“It requires us to be empathetic; to ask questions; to come at this with an open mind, or at least seem like you have an open mind,” said Dr. Joanne Miller, a psychologist at the University of Delaware who teaches courses on political propaganda, misinformation, and conspiracy theories.  

QAnon followers believe they’ve been enlightened and it’s their job to enlighten you, much like a religious cult.  So give them a chance to enlighten you, in exchange for a chance that you’ll be heard.

“One of the best ways to get people to change their minds is to make them think they're changing their mind on their own," Miller said.

Show them the damage caused by conspiracies

Ask a family member or friend to stop sharing misleading stories about sex trafficking and you may be met with criticisms about your lack of sympathy. But preventing the spread of misleading stories actually helps fight crime.

When QAnon recently alleged Antifa activists were starting wildfires in Oregon, local sheriffs were inundated with tips from followers all over the country.  Those tips, were, of course, not true.  And law enforcement had to beg callers to stop wasting precious resources in an emergency.

Similar episodes are playing out on the sex trafficking front, where detectives are wasting time chasing down Q-inspired tips that lack credibility.

Most sex trafficking is related to homelessness, not kidnapping children.  But you wouldn’t know that from QAnon theories, and there are far better ways to help the problem than spreading conspiracies online.

Don’t let them get isolated

Many rational people slide down the irrational rabbit hole because they are lonely, depressed or desperate for answers to hard-to-solve problems in life.  

“I think people wrapped up in QAnon feel vulnerable to the problems in the world,” said Amber Slatoski, a North Carolina PhD candidate who said she has had to cut off communication with close family members because of their loyalty to QAnon.

“Maybe they feel lonely.  And that maybe in some circumstances, making them feel less that way would help them in other circumstances.”

Miller recommends seeking conversations that aren’t lectures, and discussions that aren’t debates.  By building your relationship with someone who starts believing in conspiracy theories, that person may start trusting you as much as they trust strangers on the internet.