We often see technology as a source of innovation, creativity, and change, and forget that technology is only as virtuous as its users. As individuals and corporations, we post and share pictures of our most flawless selves in our brightest, most enlivened moments. Even when we share our challenges and hardships, we do so through filtered pictures and edited words, promoting one-dimensional, curated narratives of ourselves and others. We spread false and destructive narratives from the micro and macro levels, failing to take advantage of technology’s more virtuous opportunities and instead promote deceit and disconnection.
Worse yet, our growing inability to decipher fallacy from truth leaves us imagining that everyone else is smarter, happier, healthier, and in better social and economic standing than we are. We use Instagram filters and editing to help us hide our sense of failure and inadequacy. This pattern of filter-and-edit, call and response, warps our collective narrative into one based on insecurity and shame. Social media has no built-in mechanism for accountability, so our dishonesty and self-shaming go unchecked and continue to thrive.
When we filter our experiences or outright lie on social media, we strengthen a social norm that values perfection over vulnerability, “fake news” over reality. We create an environment in which intimate, honest connection rarely takes place. This misuse of technology kills meaningful human connection and cultivates environments conducive to dishonesty, disconnection, and fear, all of which weaken our ability to promote positive change.
Truth Decay is a concept the Rand Corporation uses in a 2018 study of declining trust in the US. It covers three historical eras and compares them to the past two decades to determine how trust has devolved.
In summary, Rand defines Truth Decay as having the following elements:
- Increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations.
- Blurring of the line between fact and opinion.
- Increasing volume and influence of personal, opinion and experience over fact.
- Declining trust in formally trusted sources.
The report lists the rise of social media and the twenty-four-hour news cycle as one of four drivers of Truth Decay. The consequences, the study estimates, are the erosion of civil discourse, political paralysis, alienation and disengagement of individuals from political and civil institutions, and uncertainty about US policy. While Rand’s study focuses on the political, it’s easy to see how Truth Decay can extend to the personal and professional.
Our Leaders Lie. Why Can’t We?
Since the 2016 presidential election, America’s crisis of distrust and polarization has reached a fever pitch, dividing our country in detrimental ways. We’ve learned that foreign governments were explicitly organizing “fake news” campaigns as a weapon to sow discord—and, sadly, it worked. Scroll through social media today and you’ll find memes, posts, tweets, and other “evidence” of distrust that continues to divide us.
Add the amplifying nature of the internet (driven by viral mechanics), and it’s easy to see why our sense of danger and insecurity has risen tenfold. Broadcasts of ISIS beheadings, police shootings, gang rapes, mass shootings, hate crimes, and other traumatic events saturate our news feeds. The virality of this content (spread by exponential behavior economics) elevates our fear of and disgust with our local, national and global communities. As our disconnection grows, our minds, hearts, and souls grow numb, leaving us even less available for intimate, vulnerable connections.
To offer a sense of how numb we’ve become to violence, consider that people once had to show ID at the video rental store to watch Faces of Death, a 1978 horror documentary. Now, a simple search on YouTube and one click on a sensitivity warning allows viewers to watch the documentary in full. The ability to deepen the chasm between our sense of safety and danger literally lies at our fingertips.
Authentic and vulnerable connection—the kind that human beings crave and that helps individuals, families, and communities to thrive—becomes scarce in an environment of “fake news”, dishonesty, and easy access to violence. Deep connection ceases to exist when we succumb to the lazy interactions and hasty thinking that dominate our online experience today.
To facilitate deep connection, we need to share ourselves more authentically—more vulnerably—which requires intentionality. With intention, we can leverage the power of viral mechanics and network effects to shift the pendulum away from isolation, fear, and numbness and toward honesty, trust, and connection.
Sharing our actual reality—the blotchy face, the kids screaming while on vacation, the words capturing our actual degree of hardship or celebration—is vulnerable but powerful. Refusing to accept dishonesty and disrespect as normal is vulnerable but powerful. Thinking critically before we share is vulnerable but powerful. All three require us to open our hearts, trust in humanity, and challenge the norm. Through our vulnerable, connection-facilitating words and actions, we can reverse the trend away from division and fear and toward connection and love.
The Latin phrase lux in tenebris means “light in darkness.” At Trustify, we strive to be a beacon of light in a world growing ever so dark. We use our product, community service, and professional engagements to be on the field and in the arena of sharing vulnerable truth, no matter how scary. The commitment of our servant leadership is to break down illusions, promote authenticity, and, in doing so, help cultivate a world in which trust and trustworthiness are the norm.
If all leaders harnessed technology at scale with proper intention, the pendulum of truth and trust could swing from the dark to the light, allowing communities to live and breathe truth, trust, and, most importantly, safe human connections.