Hey Elderly Aunt, how do I help my friend’s spouse stop the spread of misinformation?

Dear Elderly Aunt,
How do I politely tell my fellow boomer friend that their spouse is posting obviously misunderstood information on Facebook? Case in point: dear friend’s spouse posts a news article from a reliable source — Headline: Biden raising taxes — while they obviously failed to read the article stating Biden wants to raise taxes on people making 4K or more.

Please allow the Elderly Aunt to begin by blaming social media for conditioning us to think it’s possible to present complicated information about tax proposals in just a few words. It seems to her that these days we’d much rather react than think. And increasingly on social media, we’re after hits of outrage rather than accurate information. Why bother to go on and read the article after we’ve gotten our hit of eek! from the headline— with eek! being the current drug-of-choice for increasing numbers of Americans on both ends of the political spectrum? 

As to your friend’s spouse posting inaccurate information on Facebook, the Elderly Aunt does wonder, dear reader, why you are not asking Spouse-person yourself instead of involving your friend as a go-between? Is your Boomer friend a Facebooker? If so, surely, they’ve seen their spouse’s posts and would have mentioned any inaccuracies if they wished to act as Spouse-person’s social media conscience/copy editor. Or if your friend has chosen to avoid all Facebook political jibber jabber—including their spouse’s—in favor of posting adorable, soul-cheer pictures of their cat, are you sure you’re doing your friend a kindness by dumping your concerns on her? 

In either case, the righteous concerns you’ve voiced to the Elderly Aunt about Spouse-person’s posts are yours rather than your friend’s, and as such, it seems to the Elderly Aunt that it is your responsibility to voice them directly to the offending poster.

As to how to go about this…

The Elderly Aunt suggests you have a quiet conversation with your friend about your plan to voice concerns about the inaccuracy of their spouse’s Facebook posts, and you want them to know beforehand in case it disrupts the ease of your own relationship. If your friend responds by saying, “Oh, let me talk to spouse,” then so be it. Your friend will be talking from free choice rather than peer pressure. 

If instead your friend says some version of “be my guest,” the Elderly Aunt suggests you present your concerns to Spouse-person calmly, as a matter of information rather than argument. The goal, after all, is to invite productive discussion rather than trigger argument. She suggests saying something such as, “Hey you, I noticed the article you posted on Facebook the other day, headlined ‘Biden Raising Taxes.’ I read the article and it said President-elect Biden only wants to raise the income tax of those making $400K or above? What I’m wondering is that if that makes any difference to your opinion of his tax plan?”

After that, the Elderly Aunt suggests you listen to whatever Spouse-person has to say without interruption or visible impatience. Once they’re done, she suggests you ask specific questions about any unfounded claims or nonsense. Her own personal favorite is, “May I ask what your source is for this or that?” Your goal is to make Spouse-person think, not give him an excuse to eek!-out at you. Or foment an excuse for you to eek!-out at him.

When it comes to such conversations, the Elderly Aunt—who is an insistent feminist and egalitarian—is going to surprise herself by quoting a mash-up of the first two and penultimate lines of that good ol’ boy of the British Raj, Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs
And blaming it on you…
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it. 

Peace, dear Reader. 

And do please let the Elderly Aunt know what you decide and how it goes.

The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday.  And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”

Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions). 

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