The Panel Discussion in Quotes

Confronting Truth Decay

22 May 2018

Disinformation and fake news existed long before Google, Facebook, and Twitter. But such online platforms have changed the information space, allowing for information to be spread instantaneously. What’s more, fake news is a small part of a much wider problem.

The diminishing role of and respect for facts and analysis in public life has been termed ‘Truth Decay’ by RAND’s President and CEO, Michael Rich. In a recent RAND report, Michael and his colleagues researched the causes and consequences of Truth Decay in America. This problem, however, isn’t unique to the US.

Truth Decay encompasses the erosion of respect for facts and evidence in political life and discourse and the blurring of the line between opinion and fact. We see this in public discourse in Europe as well, in our news and in the emerging imbalance in opinion relative to fact. At this pivotal time in history, we need to confront Truth Decay.

With the effects of Truth Decay already being felt across Europe, we hosted a panel to discuss the implication of this phenomenon in Europe. Our discussion brought together representatives from media, politics and research to consider the drivers and consequences of Truth Decay. Truth Decay is a threat to our society, but by understanding and analysing it we can find a way out and a way forward.

Here’s what our panellists had to say.

On Truth Decay...

  • Truth Decay as we've defined it is an existential threat; it's that serious."

    Michael Rich

  • There is not only Truth Decay, there is also Trust Decay, and traditional media is partly responsible for that — it has made a lot of mistakes."

    Florian von Heintze

Ann Mettler and Michael Rich
  • Fake news is just the beginning; I think the next phase is fake data, fake experts, it's deep fakes powered by AI. And how do we prepare for this world? The time for naïveté is over and we in Europe need to act now."

    Ann Mettler

  • We should always start whatever we do with fact. Facts are the only future-proof thing in media and we have to protect that."

    Madeleine de Cock Buning

On democracy...

  • Truth and information is at the core of our European democracies. If consumers aren't given the opportunity to make informed choices, then we will lose what is so valuable to all of us: European democracy."

    Madeleine de Cock Buning

  • This decay of truth is a threat to democracy. The starting point needs to be to update the concept of what it means to be responsible citizen in a modern democracy."

    Michael Rich

  • Democracy is not just a privilege; it also comes with certain obligations and one of those is being an informed citizen."

    Ann Mettler

  • We don't just have to teach people that facts are important. No, we have to teach our institutions to listen again, to redefine their core functions. We have to reassess democracy."

    Constantijn van Oranje

Ann Mettler
  • There is a discussion to be had here about media, not just as a commercial product but as media for the public good and as the backbone of our democracies."

    Ann Mettler

On social media...

  • It's important to differentiate between social media and professional media and journalism: they are two different sides of the matter. Social media doesn't necessarily contain any research or fact checking, anyone can write anything, anywhere and in any way."

    Florian von Heintze

Florian von Heintze
  • I always say that social media is like steroids for disinformation. The onus is really on all of us to anticipate fake news, to stress test our assumptions, to not be naïve about technology and to acknowledge the potential downside from the outset."

    Ann Mettler

  • Social media is not a publisher; social media is a distributor and that's why these platforms should not be made responsible for their content, unless it's clearly against the law."

    Florian von Heintze

  • You cannot explain the EU in 140 characters; you just can't. A lot of issues are just really more complicated and more complex than this — there's a lot of interdependencies."

    Ann Mettler

  • Get out of your echo chamber. If you tweet, try and follow people with different opinions."

    Constantijn van Oranje

On ways forward...

  • Truth Decay can't only be fixed by the media or our governments, although it can't be fixed without changes on that side. It can't only be fixed with improvements in the way people consume and distinguish fact and opinion. It's got to be by both sides of the transaction — the information provider side and the information consumer side — and it's going to take a while."

    Michael Rich

Michael Rich
  • Truth Decay is a multidimensional issue that needs to have a multidimensional answer. It is about transparency, it is about empowering users, consumers and journalists. It's about creating a sustainable and diverse media landscape and protecting that as well, and of course it is about media literacy."

    Madeleine de Cock Buning

On transparency...

  • It is very important that advertising is transparent, including the source. This is not just true for commercial advertising but also political advertising."

    Madeleine de Cock Buning

Madeleine de Cock Buning
  • Transparency is necessary, but not nearly sufficient. I'm not confident that we are developing a citizenry who cares whether something is transparent or who knows what to do with the information that becomes available because of transparency."

    Michael Rich

On education...

  • Our education systems have failed to keep pace with changes in the information landscape and impart the skills necessary for citizens to navigate through it."

    Michael Rich

  • The best way forward, and this sounds like a cliché, is really around education; it's really around what it takes to be a responsible citizen."

    Ann Mettler

    Media literacy should also be focused towards adults because these are the people that go and vote."

    Madeleine de Cock Buning

On regulation...

  • Confronting Truth Decay is a moving target and we're learning more and more over time. We don't know everything upfront and so there is a hesitation to go in with very heavy-handed regulation at this point."

    Ann Mettler

    The role of regulators is really different to before. We, as regulators, can never give any opinion on whether something is a fact, if it's true or if it's not true."

    Madeleine de Cock Buning

    With European Commission policy cycles, it is very unlikely that the people who propose social media regulations on algorithm transparency, on data transparency, will actually be there to oversee them, so let's start with proposing self-regulation."

    Madeleine de Cock Buning