A brilliant thread by Andrew Stroehlein on how to deal with people, politicians and media that spread lies on social media, and support and encourage those who favour truth above partisanship instead.

First published in February 2020.

When an educated, influential person tweets something he knows is a lie, he is announcing his contempt for the general public. He’s saying he considers you so stupid that you’ll believe the lie.

Sadly, there are people who willingly act like they believe the lie, because it’s part of identitying with and promoting “their side”signalling their fidelity to the team.

For those who put truth above partisanship – yes, such people still exist – there is a dilemma in how to respond. How do you react in such a way that both:

(a) doesn’t further perpetuate the lie by expanding its audience; and
(b) targets the conman and convinces the conned?

It’s made harder not just because, “A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots”, but also by the extreme fragmentation of today’s information environment: the lie travels to a million hidden corners of the world that the truth won’t find.

On (a):

If it were an anonymous troll, it would be easy – mute or block, and move on. But public officials must be held to account – they are not ignorable – and some can set off a news cycle with a tweet: mainstream media will run the story, aiming for outrage clicks.

There are no easy answers, but there is more responsible and less responsible tweeting. Never retweet the lie. Reply perhaps, but if you retweet, take a photo of the tweeted lie and tweet that instead with the truth in your text. Not linking to the liar cuts off some of his oxygen.

“Never retweet the lie ... Not linking to the liar cuts off some of his oxygen.”

Another thing we can all do is never link to the mainstream media stories that are simply fishing for outrage clicks. Again, if you want to point out something they are doing wrong, use a screenshot.

When you click on outrage bait, you vote for more of the same. When you share a link to it, you encourage others to vote for it. Editors count the clicks to gauge what works and then give you more of that in future. Top liars are attention seekers exploiting this poisoned system.

Also, when calling out lies, too often we repeat the lie and give it top billing. We should always put the truth first.

So, rather than,

“The minister says vaccines don’t work, but this is a dangerous lie.”


“Vaccines save lives, and the ministers lie is dangerous.”

Then, flood the zone with that truth. Repeat the truth a thousand times, and keep repeating it. Encourage your followers on Twitter to do the same.

Let everyone see the truth ten times more than the lie.

On (b):

We have to distinguish the conman from the conned.

Even when some of the latter are more willingly conned than others, attacking them (or making fun of them) convinces no one of the truth. (And if some people can never be convinced, why waste your time on them?)

Always remember that it’s those with power who have responsibility and who must be called out and held accountable.

Time is short, resources are limited... focus on the liars that matter.

Demand that mainstream media do the same. Insist they focus on calling out the lies of the powerful – rather than, say, doing interviews with unprepared, random people on the street to make them look like idiots (and generate more outrage clicks).

And link to the media articles that get it right.

Encourage your followers to click (vote for) those pieces instead of the outrage bait. Send a message to the editors (vote counters) that responsible journalism that calls out powerful liars will get them the clicks they seek.

“Send a message to the editors that responsible journalism that calls out powerful liars will get them the clicks they seek.”

Look, I don’t know if we can ever beat the liars on Twitter.

But I do know we can all do better than we’re doing now.

Tweets posted on 2 February 2020 by @astroehlein.

[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 16 February 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Pixels.)