Where do Americans get their news? What news sources do they view as reliable? And how are choices about news consumption linked to demographics or political affiliation? Results from a national survey provide insights into these questions and more.
RAND researchers asked people where they get their news, how reliable they think it is, and whether they seek out viewpoints that are different from their own. The results provide some new clues to help diagnose and treat Truth Decay.
Jennifer Kavanagh, who wrote the RAND book Truth Decay about the diminishing role that facts play in making important public policy decisions, calls the unfolding situation with the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 a worst-case scenario.
"Truth Decay" is the diminishing role of facts and analysis in U.S. public life. As part of this phenomenon, Americans are losing faith in once-trusted sources of information, including the news. What could media organizations do to address this?
Americans have always held differing views about policy issues. But more and more, they disagree about basic facts. This is a symptom of what RAND calls “Truth Decay,” and it's doing severe damage to democracy in the United States.
“Truth Decay” is the diminishing reliance on facts and analysis in American public life. It has many damaging consequences: the erosion of civil discourse, political paralysis, alienation and disengagement from political and civic institutions, and uncertainty over U.S. policy.
In what ways has news reporting in print, on television, and online changed over the last 30 years? Overall, there has been a shift toward more-subjective reporting, but many of the changes have been subtle.
Technology has transformed how people get information. But it has also affected the way that information is produced, shared, and disseminated. How much has the presentation of news actually changed over the last three decades?
The line between fact and fiction in American public life is blurring. This “Truth Decay” phenomenon affects democracy and political and civil discourse, driving wedges between policymakers and neighbors alike. But research and analysis can serve as a launching point to rein Truth Decay in.
Detailed data and complex analysis are the foundation of decisionmaking in baseball and many other professions and occupations. But facts are out of favor in current U.S. political and civil discourse, and the public policymaking that accompanies it.
The declining regard for factual evidence may be a defining characteristic of our current age. Previous eras suggest it is within society's power to restore respect for objective facts. Humankind just needs to put it on the agenda.
What is social media's role in the decline of trust in the media? Is government intervention needed to help stop the spread of misinformation? A panel of researchers discussed the connection between the media and Truth Decay at a RAND event in Boston.
Truth Decay is defined by disagreement about facts, the blurred line between opinion and fact, increased volume of opinion and personal experience over fact, and declining trust in formerly respected sources of facts. RAND president and CEO Michael D. Rich, journalist Soledad O'Brien, and political scientist Francis Fukuyama discuss the phenomenon and the search for solutions to it.
Without agreement about objective facts and a common understanding of and respect for data and analytical interpretations of those data, it becomes nearly impossible to have the types of meaningful policy debates that form the foundation of democracy.
“Truth Decay” poses a threat to the health and future of democracy across Europe. With partial facts, disinformation, and incompatible versions of “the truth” competing for attention, it's more and more important for Europeans to recognize this phenomenon.
Authorities can continue to seek to punish the tech companies for the circulation of false articles. But this is unlikely to make a difference until more people take the time to acquire the skills to distinguish between fact and fiction.
“When everyone has their own facts, then nobody really has any facts at all,” said President and CEO Michael Rich at RAND's Politics Aside event. Truth Decay pushes political polarization to even greater extremes and prevents policymakers from reaching consensus on solutions to the nation's biggest challenges.
Want to learn more about how RAND is responding to Truth Decay? Are you a researcher interested in tackling this issue? We want to hear from you.
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