4 Ways to Counteract False Narratives and Focus on Good Policymaking

May 26, 2021
Capacity Experts

More than ever, it is important to fight against false narratives, even if they go against what we want to be true. The terrifying and terrible events of January 6 are a stark reminder of how important it is for nonprofits to serve as a critical check on false narratives as part of their role in ensuring a civil society. The refashioning of facts makes it difficult for people to distinguish between the truth and curated distortions of reality that mislead the public. It also creates an environment that allows for Trojan horse policies that benefit small groups while harming other parts of society. Instead, public policy should solve problems that individuals cannot solve on their own because it requires collective action, the mass mobilization of resources, and the coordination of logistics on a large scale to effectively implement a policy intervention. 

4 Steps to Combat False Narratives

Thus, during this time of transition, nonprofits must come together and make sure policymakers across all levels and branches of government work to solve the real and pressing problems that our constituents are facing. The following are some steps we can take to ethically advocate for our constituents:

  1. We fight against permitting an “Us vs Them” environment that demands ideological purity and blind allegiance to a person. This means we must challenge assumptions that everyone believes to be true, we must encourage debate and diversity of thought, and we must focus on problem-solving. 
  2. We must question hyper-patriotic language that provides no real information about what a particular public policy would actually do or how it would be operationalized. With any piece of legislation or public policy we see put forth for discussion, we must examine what the policy objectives are, what the text says versus what the advocates say the policy will do, and assess how it will be operationalized. Otherwise, we could be misled by marketing strategies used to dupe the public into supporting trojan horse policies. When the following marketing strategies are used, further investigation is needed: 1) symbols that emote a feeling of patriotism or nostalgia (e.g., flags, hyper patriotic language, or traditional values) are used to describe the policy, but there is no specificity regarding how that policy will work; 2) narratives are used that pit one community against another; and 3) the language being used is so ambiguous that anyone could feel like the policy is addressing an issue they care about. 
  3. We must work with our partners in government to rebuild confidence in our public institutions and nonprofits. Public institutions provide one layer of protection against the capricious whims of demagogues and systemic oppression. However, when due process is sidestepped for political expediency or to advance a narrow political agenda, institutions cannot sustainably defend us against bad actors. Instead, without safeguarding against unethical governance, they can become tools for implementing injustice. Since nonprofits work hand-in-hand with government to advance the public good through various means, it is essential that we serve as check-and-balance for government by focusing on: 1) problem-solving over partisanship, 2) the equal application of the law, 3) increasing transparency, and 4) addressing racial and economic inequities. 
  4. We must demand accountability via increased transparency in government. This means that we must be in the room when decisions are made, check to see whether government is fulfilling its end of the bargain, check to see how decisions are made, and continuously provide input and feedback on public policy actions or inactions. This includes legislation, administrative actions (e.g., executive orders), and regulation. 

In an era where there is a widespread lack of understanding about how our government works and information consumers struggle to discern truth from false narratives, we must step to the forefront to challenge equivocating politicians and bad-faith actors who put forth trojan horse policies. Thus, public policy must focus on addressing real issues in a meaningful way that actually addresses problems instead of placing band-aids on complex and persistent social ailments. Issues like systemic racism, poverty, health, and education all require federal solutions that can then be operationalized by states and partnering nonprofits. Otherwise, they will continue to persist and, often, culminate in chaotic and unstable situations. 

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Please share your experience counteracting false narratives and engaging in sound policymaking with all of us below, so we can all learn from you. 

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