George Lakoff is a linguist who often focuses on framing and countering disinformation and has written several books on the topic. He is also considered the author of the truth sandwich, a method to respond to disinformation.
The previous rule of thumb is to respond to a false statement in the same media that it was circulated. For example, if it was spread on a blog post, address the falsehood only there instead of holding a press conference and expanding its coverage.
If the false statement is particularly heinous or responding to it has a strategic advantage that positively impacts your side of the argument, then George advises a true-lie-true formula.
George Lakoff: Truth Sandwich:
- True statement.
- State the lie, but avoid using specific language or their framing of the issue.
- Repeat the true statement. Repeat the truth more frequently than lies.
How this works in practice:
In the NE of Nigeria, there are often rumors of schools being targeted for kidnapping. For example, if there is a rumor that children were kidnapped, then repeating the rumor causes more problems: “There was a kidnapping report, and many parents are worried, but this report is not true.” When the rumor is repeated and later declared false, it sometimes leads to more confusion or belief that it could be true.
Some people may hear only the first part, and since it is from the government, those listening may repeat the rumor or panic. Listeners may believe that the children were kidnapped and are now safe instead of realizing that there was no kidnapping.
Instead, try the truth sandwich:
- Truth: Across our region, it was a normal day at school.
- Rumor is false: There were some rumors in the market about school violence, but the police confirmed no problems at any school today. These are false rumors.
- Truth: All children and schools are safe across the region.