Most of us are familiar with the effects of tooth decay, which typically lead to a visit to the dentist, but we are experiencing another malady that’s much more problematic than the need for a filling or an extraction.

The nonpartisan RAND Corp. defines “truth decay” as the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life. It has gained substantial ground over the last two decades, “eroding civil discourse, causing political paralysis, and leading to public uncertainty and disengagement.”

The nonprofit global policy think tank has identified four trends — increasing disagreement about facts; a blurring of the line between opinion and fact; the increasing relative volume and resulting influence of opinion over fact; and declining trust in formerly respected sources of facts.

We have been told that there is no truth, really, only who you choose to believe. Sadly, many of us are siding with people who slant or twist facts for one reason or another, including personal satisfaction with disruption and divison. Caveat emptor — Latin for “let the buyer beware” — applies in acquiring factual knowledge, too.

Last week, The Associated Press reported that nearly all Americans agree that the rampant spread of misinformation is a problem.

The story, based upon a new poll from The Pearson Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, said they also think social media companies, and the people that use them, bear a good deal of blame. But few are very concerned that they themselves might be responsible.

Ninety-five percent of people taking part in the survey identified misinformation as a problem when they’re trying to access important information. About half put a great deal of blame on the U.S. government, and about three-quarters point to social media users and tech companies.

Only two in 10 Americans say they’re very concerned that they have personally spread misinformation, but about six in 10 are at least somewhat concerned that their friends or family members have done so.

Divisions become very clear when discussing COVID-19 and vaccinations recommended to stop its spread. What’s more, differences of opinion along political party lines have deepened. The survey found that 61% of Republicans say the U.S. government has a lot of responsibility for spreading misinformation, compared to just 38% of Democrats. There’s more bipartisan agreement about the role that social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, play in the spread of misinformation, with 79% of Republicans and 73% of Democrats saying social media companies have a great deal or quite a bit of responsibility for misinformation.

That could be bad news for tech giants like Facebook, the largest and most profitable social media platform, which is under fire from both Republican and Democrat lawmakers.

Don’t be click happy. Before liking or sharing a post, try at least to make sure the information comes from a credible source or recognized medical institution. Cross reference from different online sites for further verification.

If something sounds outrageous or unbelievable, it mostly likely is.

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