When distrust defines society’s relationship with government & media

March 1, 2022

Written by Haley Corzo

Humanity’s potential for progress and creativity risks sustained damage when distrust is the foundation and society is no longer characterized by positive relationships with government, media, business, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Still, data from this year’s edition of Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer offers a glimmer of hope that some of the damage may be reversible.

Tonia Ries, Edelman’s Global Executive Director of Intellectual Property, rejoined us on the NewsWhip Pulse hosted by CEO Paul Quigley to discuss society’s rocky relationship with  major institutions in the Trust Barometer.

Ries, the steward of the Trust Barometer, explains why trust is a useful metric to evaluate society due to the nature that it is a “forward-looking” factor impacting the likelihood of economic benefits, collaborative partnerships, and loyalties. How does one measure trust? That measurement, according to Ries, boils down to an evaluation of competency and ethics for each institution.

Ries explained “there’s a real big gap between the competence of government, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 points less competent than businesses.”

Dividers of trust in society

To further the point, not only is the government considered less trustworthy, but the media and societal leaders have also experienced a troubling decline in trust. Quigley notes that this decline could be partly due to misinformation, a factor some may deem as outside of their control, but regardless there has been a significant increase in people feeling that they’re being lied to by politicians, journalists, and even CEO’s. 

“Solving the information problem really is everyone’s business, and the data bears this out,” said Ries. “Every institution has to think about their role and how they can contribute to rebuilding trust in information.”

image showing societal leaders not trusted

Now that social media has become a major playground for information, there’s a need to discuss the quality of that information, and generally people are skeptical about its credibility. 

“The challenge of course is that social media still is very popular and is the conduit through which people come across many of the messages from other sources,” said Ries. “And it becomes much harder once they’re in my feed on Twitter, or Facebook, or other places I might be using, to distinguish between quality information sources and those that are less quality.”

Ries further emphasizes that creating solutions for the spread of misinformation is a problem for everyone to tackle, regardless of if they use social media or other traditional platforms. 

Widening gaps that affect trust

Gaps of note that have affected trust over time are particularly interesting to Ries across income and political beliefs. Over time, trust with people with high income has improved by several points in the last decade but the level of trust has not seemed to budge for people with lower income. Similarly, there’s a 20 point difference in levels of trust between Democrats and Republicans.

“Even though business has seen a 12-point decline in the last year among those who identify as Republicans, it still had the highest level of trust among that group,” said Ries. “There’s at least a little bit more agreement among the two sides of the political aisle that business has something to offer that the other institutions don’t.”

While there’s some acknowledgment of trust in business from both political parties, distrust from those with low income is as high as it’s ever been. Ries explains that those who fall into this category have a sense of being left behind, and are put in an unfair situation by leaders who continue to perpetuate the system that is doing so. 

“We need to find a way to restore a belief that we actually have the ability to get things done and address challenges, as opposed to the cycle that we seem to be in now, which is to politicize every crisis and every potential solution that comes our way.”

The opportunity for companies to rebuild trust

Even with a decline in trust for the government and media, there are still important actions that they can take to restore what they’ve lost.

chart showing information quality

The most powerful trust builder is information quality, which Ries defined as access to credible, trustworthy information. This means the information provided must be clear, consistent, and fact-based. Not only is this a way for the government and the media to gain the most points, but NGOs and businesses would also see a noteworthy increase in trust. 

“Information is a very, very powerful piece of the puzzle in terms of how we restore trust,” said Ries.

“Incredible,” said Quigley. “It can’t always just be about playing to your tribe and telling a story. Sometimes it’s just delivering good quality information and showing me that you’re doing it.”

Watch last year’s Trust Barometer special here or visit the Pulse hub for more episodes.


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