Truth decay, fake news, disinformation, Russian propaganda | Homeland Security Newswire

Truth decayDeclining trust in facts, institutions imposes real costs on U.S. society

Published 19 January 2018

Americans’ reliance on facts to discuss public issues has declined significantly in the past two decades, leading to political paralysis and collapse of civil discourse, according to a RAND report. This phenomenon, referred to as “Truth Decay,” is defined by increasing disagreement about facts, a blurring between opinion and fact, an increase in the relative volume of opinion and personal experience over fact, and declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.

Americans’ reliance on facts to discuss public issues has declined significantly in the past two decades, leading to political paralysis and collapse of civil discourse, according to a RAND Corporation report.

This phenomenon, referred to as “Truth Decay,” is defined by increasing disagreement about facts, a blurring between opinion and fact, an increase in the relative volume of opinion and personal experience over fact, and declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.

While there is evidence of similar phenomena in earlier eras in U.S. history, the current manifestation of Truth Decay is exacerbated by changes in the ways Americans consume information—particularly via social media and cable news. Other influences that may make Truth Decay more intense today include political, economic and social polarization that segment and divide the citizenry, the study finds.

These factors lead to Truth Decay’s damaging consequences, such as political paralysis and uncertainty in national policy, which incur real costs. The government shutdown of 2013, which lasted sixteen days, resulted in a $20 billion loss to the U.S. economy, according to estimates cited in the study.

RAND says that in exploring past periods in U.S. history that resemble Truth Decay, researchers focused on three with similar hallmarks: the 1880s-1890s (rapid industrialization and economic inequality), 1920s-1930s (mistrust of banks and financial institutions), and 1960s-1970s (social upheaval, Vietnam War). Improved government transparency backed by changes in policy and a resurgence of responsible, investigative journalism marked the ends of some of these times, researchers found.

“Although we see some evidence that previous eras also experienced a decline in trust in institutions, this trend seems to be more pronounced now than in the past,” said Michael D. Rich, co-author of the report and president and CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. “Today we see that lack of trust across many more pillars of society—in government, media and financial institutions—and a far lower absolute level of trust in these institutions than before.”

Researchers also identify Truth Decay’s four causes: humans’ natural mental habits, changes in the American information ecosystem, competing demands on the educational system that limit its ability to keep up with changes in that information ecosystem, and political, sociodemographic and economic polarization.