I was catching up with a friend recently when the conversation turned to politics. Before long, we were in a heated debate. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was like we lived in two completely separate universes.
She believed her candidate was the victim of a targeted media campaign. Everything he did was scrutinized, while the same people turned a blind eye to their own party's shortcomings. She provided countless examples of misuse of political power, reversal of campaign promises, and poor policy decisions.
When I tried to point out the gaps in her logic with objective sources, she had a list of her own sources a mile long. She was quoting people I had never heard of, but who had huge followings on social media. When we did find an objective source, our interpretation of the numbers was completely different.
Can you guess which candidate she supported?
Neither can I, because there is no wrong answer. What I just described is the perspective from both sides of the aisle.
We’re experiencing a monumental shift in how information is shared. Access to accurate information is one of the basic assumptions that democracy is built on. It’s not that we expect everyone to agree — that process is handled through voting. But we assume agreement on the facts, even if we have different opinions on what to do about it.
Today, we not only disagree on what direction to take our country, we disagree on the facts. The RAND Corporation, a non-partisan research group, calls this phenomenon Truth Decay.
RAND defines Truth Decay as the diminishing role of facts and data in American public life. There are four trends that characterize Truth Decay:
- increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data
- a blurring of the line between opinion and fact
- the increasing relative volume and resulting influence of opinion and personal experience over fact
- declining trust in formerly respected sources of facts.
Truth Decay is a serious problem for democracies.
If we can’t agree on basic facts, we can’t have productive conversations about the future. Here are a few things that I’m doing to help combat Truth Decay:
- I choose to share objective and fact-based research as broadly as I can. This means in conversations with friends, family, and through this newsletter.
- I choose to clearly call out opinions as such, instead of comingling them with facts.
- I choose to understand my own biases and seek alternative viewpoints from people who don’t look like me.
- I choose to expand my media diet instead of relying strictly on broadcast television, radio, or online sources.
- I choose to seek facts from nonpartisan experts or listen to opposing viewpoints and decide independently.
- I choose to read history.
- I choose to come to my own conclusions on topics that are important to me, rather than deciding along party lines.
- I refuse to be outraged by manipulative journalism.
These are things that I am personally choosing to do. Opposing Truth Decay is more important than a particular political viewpoint. In a well functioning democracy, there is space for all voices, not just the loudest ones.
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