Truth Decay

Why can't we seem to agree on the facts? Are we consuming more information but understanding less? If we are more connected than ever before, how did we become so divided?

Over the last two decades, the role of facts and analysis in American public life has been declining. It's a phenomenon called "Truth Decay," and it's led to alienation, a lack of civil discourse, political paralysis, and general uncertainty around what's true and what isn't.

RAND researchers have been studying Truth Decay to better understand how it works, why it's happening, and what you can do to stop it.

Tackling Truth Decay: YouTube creators X RAND

What is Truth Decay?

Truth Decay is a complex problem. It functions as a system of interconnected trends, causes, and consequences.

There are previous eras in American history—during the Vietnam War, for example—that resemble what's going on today. But one thing makes our current Truth Decay moment different: growing disagreement about objective facts.

Why does it matter?

  • Lost connection

    Truth Decay is defined by disagreement about basic facts. This drives both individuals and communities apart, because it contributes to alienation, a growing political divide, and the erosion of civil discourse.

  • Halted progress

    From gun policy and health care reform to homelessness and climate change—we are facing many serious issues. But it will be difficult to make progress without a shared set of facts to inform our debates.

  • A threat to democracy

    For a democracy to thrive, citizens must be armed with facts and engaged with the political system. Truth Decay works against these pillars of democracy, blurring the line between fact and opinion and decreasing civic engagement.

What can you do about it?

Truth Decay isn't something you can fix on your own. But there are things you can do to chip away at it.

  • Consume information with intention. This means considering biases, seeking out different perspectives, and thinking critically about what you're reading, watching, or listening to.
  • Produce and share information responsibly. Carefully evaluate accounts, articles, and sources that you choose to elevate. If you do share something that you find out is false, be sure to set the record straight.
  • Hold friends and family accountable. If someone is sharing information that's false or misleading, push back. You can also help loved ones learn how to identify reliable sources and spot disinformation.
  • Get offline and engage. Take your conversations out of the comments section and attempt to build bridges with those who disagree with you.
Find out more

Learn more about Truth Decay

  • A row of people on their mobile phones

    Research Brief

    Truth Decay: A Threat to Policymaking and Democracy

    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.

    Jan 16, 2018

  • An illustration of human hands holding various smart devices, image by zubada/Getty Images

    Project

    Explore Truth Decay Research and Commentary by Topic

    From how disinformation spreads online to Americans' trust in democratic institutions, RAND researchers are studying a wide range of topics related to Truth Decay—the diminishing role of facts in U.S. public life.

    Mar 23, 2021