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ROGUE RESEARCH | CULTURAL ANALYSIS

investigating america's relationship with truth

With mentorship from Nonfiction Research, we made a zine that tackled a big question: What is happening to truth in America right now?

Check out the zine below, or scroll to read some of the highlights.

background

When thinking about America's relationship with truth, it may be tempting to throw our hands up and consider it a lost cause. This research, conducted from September–November 2020, confirmed the depth of this problem. But it also revealed cracks of light: reasons why we shouldn't give up and resign to a world where truth has no value. 

How did we get here, and what can we do about it? That's what we set out to answer. 

RESEARCH METHODS

Interviews with a psychologist, a psychic, a QAnon supporter, an ex-Mormon drag queen, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author

Social listening in groups ranging from environmental activists to anti-maskers

National survey to understand how relationships have been affected in 2020

KEY FINDINGS

01.

the marketplace of ideas has been hacked.

America has never been a one-truth-fits-all kind of place. Instead, we live in a "marketplace of ideas" in which different beliefs can compete. In the marketplace, the best ideas ideally rise to the top. 

But there's a problem: the marketplace has been hacked. From our own mental biases to disinformation campaigns, the balance of the marketplace has been thrown out of whack. And it's never been harder for us to untangle truths from lies. 

02.

we all want to be the heroes of our own stories, truth be damned.

Every story has a winner and a loser. And when it comes to the world around us, we're hard-wired to consider ourselves the winners. We've dubbed this phenomenon the "hero paradox": No matter what evidence is laid before us, our instinct remains to consider ourselves the heroes of our own stories.

When there's only an option to win or to fail, who wouldn't want to find "truths" to support their side?

03.

We have a source problem.

One of the benefits of the marketplace of ideas is that knowledge can be openly shared, free of gatekeepers. That’s also one of its biggest risks.

If we don’t know where our information is coming from, we’re unable to question the motives of its authors. And if we’re unable to question their motives, we may not know when we’re being manipulated. 

04.

our relationships are at risk.

It's hardly groundbreaking to say that America's truth crisis is affecting society at large. That much is obvious. We wanted to look one layer deeper: How is America's truth crisis affecting personal relationships?

 

We found that 35 million Americans have cut a loved one out of their lives in the past 6 months over conflicting beliefs. Our disagreements over truth are tearing our relationships apart. 

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the solution: unhacking the marketplace of ideas starts with us.

There is no magic solution that will instantly bring unity. But instead of waiting for government and tech leaders to eliminate the environments where misinformation thrives, we can start somewhere much closer: our own beliefs.

Ready to start examining your own biases and do your part to unhack the marketplace of ideas? Here are 4 topics to explore:

01.
what is the real root of my insecurity? what is the specific problem i'm facing?

Consider how the issues in your own life make you vulnerable to manipulation. It’s time to let go of scapegoats, for placing blame does little to improve your situation.

02.
where do i get my information? who does it benefit, and what might be their agenda?

Understanding the sources of your information can help you identify potential bias.

03.
what is in my control?

Remove yourself from your social identity to consider what change needs to happen to make your daily life better. Chances are, it has little to do with the 24-hour news cycle or arguments on Facebook with people from your high school. 

04.
How can I find empathy for others? 

One human being is much more complex than their political beliefs and a binary analysis. We're mistaken if we think that we can’t learn something from someone who disagrees with us.

let's unhack it.

outcomes + Reflections

Investigating the issue of truth in America led us to some surprising places. This project pushed us to think hard about our own biases and beliefs. We were humbled by the process and grateful to have done it.