Our theme for the month of March is “Ask the post calvin.” We’re taking on questions submitted by readers and offering our best advice.

Dear the post calvin,

My parents and grandparents keep sharing Fake News on social media. What sort of things can I comment on their posts to show them the light?

Facebook Freedom Fighter

Dear Fighter,

Enlightenment can come from many places, but the comments of your relatives’ Facebook post is unlikely to be one of them. Normally, when encountering news you disagree with, you would have two options—engage, or walk away. You may be one of those people who enjoy social media debates, and if you manage to engage while conducting yourself with wisdom and grace, well, bless you. But this is your family, so your options are different. If you send off a sharp comment to “show grandpa the light,” he may feel insulted, and your relationship might be affected. But if you deeply oppose the ideas he’s posting and say nothing, that may hang over your head the next time he reaches out for a bear hug.

You ask what you can comment, but social media isn’t exactly the platform for graciousness or nuance. Why not give mom a call next time she falls for an Onion article? And give yourself time to catch up before you try to explain to her the concept of satire. If you want your criticism to be productive without stressing your relationship, make sure that she’s hearing from you more often than when you need to tell her that no, Mark Zuckerberg is not giving $1 million to everyone who shares that post. Then your correction comes not out of the blue, but in the context of a relationship. If you can’t meet in person or make time for a call, send a private message. Without the stress of everyone you both know reading over your shoulders, discussions can be a whole lot more civil.

If the “fake news” you’re seeing is as harmless as these examples, you can probably talk through it with a quick Google search, a Snopes link, or a short phone call. But we’re seeing an epidemic of social media posts that mislead in a way that incites violence, promotes division, or encourages racist, sexist, or homophobic stereotypes. Your family may be posting things that make you feel unsafe or unwelcome. In those cases, much harder conversations are necessary.

What works in changing people’s minds? Not facts. Not (for the majority of people) social media posts. People change when they have relationships with people who think differently, especially when those differences are explained patiently and personally. As you talk with your family, look for common ground, establish things you both agree on, and accept that you probably won’t ever agree completely. Know too that your presence and your example will speak more than any post you can write.

In the meantime, return to the sorts of comments that are always acceptable parents’ and grandparents’ posts: “Impressive Candy Crush score!” or “Happy birthday!” or “That quiche looks great.”

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