For the first time, the media have become the least trusted of all institutions globally, according to a wide-ranging survey of people’s attitudes.
Fear of fake news and a lack of confidence in information on the internet have contributed to the media being distrusted in 22 of the 28 countries examined by the global communications marketing firm Edelman.
Its survey of 33,000 people “reveals a world of seemingly stagnant distrust” in institutions including government and media, according to the authors.
Although the overall picture remained largely unchanged from last year, the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reports “dramatic shifts” within individual countries and especially over people’s views on the media – including social media.
Fear of fake news and the ‘return of experts’
The report speaks of a “polarisation of trust”, with a distinct split between countries at opposite ends of the scale.
No country saw a bigger decline than the United States, where trust across all institutions plunged by 37 points. At the other end of the spectrum, China saw a 27-point gain in trust, more than any other country.
The chart shows 20 countries (marked in red) out of 28 are classified as "distrusters", where the level of trust in institutions is less than 50 percent.
Nearly seven in 10 respondents said they worried about fake news or false information being used as a weapon – with nearly 60 percent saying it was getting harder to tell whether news was produced by a respected news organisation.
This has led to an apparent paradox: the media have become the least trusted among institutions, yet “the credibility of journalists rose substantially”.
There was also a revival of faith in experts, with industry analysts and entrepreneurs recording credibility levels of 50 percent or above. “In a world where facts are under siege, credentialed sources are proving more important than ever,” said Edelman’s Stephen Kehoe.
‘Trust crash in US’
The past year has seen a “record-breaking drop in trust in the US”, the study says, with the collapse “driven by a staggering lack of faith in government”. Among the general population, trust fell nine points to 43 percent – while among the “informed public” a huge decrease of 23 percent saw the country’s world standing plunge from sixth to last place.
The drop in confidence was particularly marked among the young (with a 12 percent fall among 18-34-year-olds) and the middle-aged (down 14 percent).
“The United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust,” said Richard Edelman, Edelman’s president and CEO. “The root cause of this fall is the lack of objective facts and rational discourse.”
The issue of fake news has been prominent during Donald Trump’s first year in office, with the president and his critics accusing each other of spreading false information.
Social media distrusted in UK
Some of the starkest differences have emerged in the United Kingdom, where the survey finds that social media companies have lost the trust of most of the public.
Only a quarter of the population now say they trust the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as a reliable source of information. In contrast, Edelman says there has been “a huge increase” of 61 percent in people’s trust of traditional media and a return to levels not seen for five years.
Elsewhere in Europe, the survey finds relatively high levels of trust for both government and media in the Netherlands (both over 50 percent). In France, the year which saw the rise to power of President Macron also saw an eight percent increase in trust in government – albeit to a total of only a third of the population.
In mid-table more than 50 percent of respondents in Turkey again expressed trust in the government, while Italy witnessed a five-point drop in confidence. Near the bottom of the list, Poland saw a five-point rise in trust in the government, but only to a level of 25 percent.
Research for the survey was carried out between October 28 and November 20, 2017.