Trust in Media: Everyone’s Problem

Why does trust matter? Trust is critical for every institution to gain credibility and build a strong reputation. But it is a complex subject to study since it’s subjective and fluctuates through time. But trust is no secret for Edelman. This global communication firm has researched it for the past two decades. Each year, the firm conducts a study based on a worldwide scale survey that summarizes real-world insights about trust. This study is also known as Edelman’s Trust Barometer.

One of the most compelling findings that have repeatedly transcended the results over the years is the contrast between trust in business, media, and government. For example, in 2007, the Barometer concluded that business was more trusted than media across the globe. Since then, companies and brands have tried maintaining those trust levels using personalization on their services and building inside-out reputations. Following recent events such as the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many would have thought that confidence in business and financial entities would change. However, until now, this sector has remained at the top of the podium as the most reliable in society.

The media, however, has obtained a different outcome than business. Because of the rise of fake news, each year has become more difficult for the public to have faith in traditional and new sources of information. A new finding made by Edelman reassures this statement. In this year’s edition of the Barometer (read the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer), the firm concluded that media outlets and governments fuel a “distrust cycle.” In the survey conducted for the study, one of every two respondents saw both institutions as “divisive forces” in society. Moreover, two-thirds believed that journalists and reporters are “purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.” Although some dose of skepticism towards media outlets is a healthy sign of awareness in readers and audiences, since 2021, the media landscape has become more hostile and distrusted. A recent survey by Gallup in the US found that Americans are incredibly skeptical of TV news and newspapers. Although they didn’t achieve high “trust points” in the past, right now, American communication channels have experienced one of the lowest scores recorded by Gallup. In addition, social media usage has become more diverse. A study by YouGov and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has found that in 2022, 42% of American adults use social media as a reference for news. Despite these facts, trust in these platforms has followed the same luck as TV news and newspapers: audiences also have a growing lack of faith in them.

img src="public protest.jpg" alt="people marching against disinformation"
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Like other companies, social media platforms have tried to personalize the content for each user as much as possible through technology and algorithms. But this way of customizing their service has eventually built bubbles of content that fuel confirmation biases reinforcing the prior beliefs of each user. As a result, disinformation has become a topic associated with online platforms and a lack of trust in the source. The most recent example of mistrust in a social media platform has been the case of Facebook, now known as Meta. In 2018, Facebook made headlines around the globe when the firm shared the confidential data of millions of its users with an outsider firm, Cambridge Analytica. Since then, the platform’s reputation plummeted, so last year, in an attempt to restore that lost faith, Zuckerberg came forward to announce a rebranding. With a new name and new logo but with the same values, those changes didn’t solve the issue. Instead, it further degraded society’s opinion of the company.

Based on this landscape, the hope of restoring trust in media seems almost non-existent. However, many signs show that a growing population is willing to listen to experts’ opinions. In 2021, Edelman found positive insights regarding the future of trusting in news sources, alongside evidence for a desire to improve information literacy. In addition, many global projects are taking action to earn the trust back to the media, such as “The Trust Project,” which seeks integrity in journalism.

Yet, the media is not able to ensure this alone.  The government, journalists, and society must step in and discourage the propagation of false narratives. Because until now, the efforts created to fight disinformation have been insufficient. For example, in 2018, the European Commission developed a code of practice on disinformation. However, the measures didn’t control the propagation of fake news. So, this year, the EU has had to strengthen that tool hoping for a better outcome.

But, what measures should be applied to ensure success against distrust of information?

First, citizens and institutions should align efforts to ensure the effective discouragement of these practices through:

  • Strong policies that establish what journalists should follow.
  • Specific fines for posting and sharing misleading information.
  • The empowerment of fact-checkers.

And most importantly, the empowerment of citizens and their opinion is crucial to developing long-term transparency in media, government, and business. We must seek truth and fight against disinformation so that eventually, we can trust back on our environment.

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