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Yet diverging views on why
One of the benefits of writing a daily newsletter for over a year and a half is that we begin to return to stories and cycles that are worth revisiting. The phrase we’ve adopted is APT or active persistent threads, and trust is certainly one of them.
Today’s Metaviews is a metaview of the Edelman Trust Barometer, which we looked at a little over a year ago. Although because it is an annual affair, we can compare our thoughts last year, pre-pandemic, with where we’re at today.
Let’s begin by quoting our issue from last year, which was titled, Who do you trust? This was our intro:
A society is only as healthy as the trust that people place in it. At least that’s the assumption, or what we tend to trust about trust.
However after reading this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer, I’m not so sure. Perhaps an active culture of suspicion, skepticism, and distrust is the kind of health we desire?
For example we used to regard bacteria as entirely bad and worth eradicating. Yet now we recognize that the right kinds of bacteria are essential, and that wide spread antibacterial practices will make us sick and lead to a range of nasty complications.
Is fostering dissent or distrust comparable to drinking kombucha or eating probiotic yogurt?
A year later I still appreciate this perspective.
Last year Edelman was trying to argue that distrust was becoming an issue and that organizations needed to take it seriously. However we felt it worthwhile to point out their profit motive in promoting such a conclusion.
That’s part of the power of this kind of report, and why companies like Edelman fund them. It allows them to manufacture a reality that helps sell their products and services. As a public relations and communications firm, Edelman profits by establishing that there is a lack of trust, and then presenting themselves as the solution or fix.
They love to say that trust is hard to build and easy to lose. Sounds like a protection racket. Pay us to build your trust, in spite of that trust being something you can and will lose regardless.
With this in mind, the contrast between last year’s report and this year’s is both negligible and jarring.
Once again we’re told that trust is scarce, that media trust is in decline, government trust is in decline, but corporations are poised to be shining knights that save the day.
That the difference is negligible should not be surprising, but since a pandemic has happened in between these reports, that lack of difference is also jarring. The narrative should have changed, and yet it really hasn’t.
For the first time ever, fewer than half of all Americans have trust in traditional media, according to data from Edelman's annual trust barometer. https://t.co/hHLqLlIwcb
— Axios (@axios) January 21, 2021
While it may be the first time ever, it should come as no surprise, nor is it sudden. Similarly it cannot be emphasized enough how the pandemic has helped accelerate this (and many other) trend(s).
"Almost 60 per cent of respondents said they thought most news organisations were more concerned with supporting an ideology than with informing the public" Edelman's most recent Trust Barometer suggests https://t.co/cs2qpfycBS
— Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (@rasmus_kleis) January 13, 2021
Edelman argues that misinformation is the primary reason why trust in media and governments is plummeting. However this is a convenient explanation that takes blame and responsibility from the media and governments who do not deserve our trust.
Similarly we should be skeptical of the way corporations are held up as beacons of trust, as these are organizations that play the game Edelman charges for, which is public relations and strategic communications.
The public is increasingly counting on CEOs to make the right calls on political & social issues. According to 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer released earlier this month, business replaced government as most trusted institution during the Covid-19 pandemic. https://t.co/cRfoyG1c4t
— Marc Benioff (@Benioff) January 25, 2021
The folks at Edelman are certainly right that trust is important, and that trust is essential, and that trust in our institutions is dangerously low. However they’re wrong about why this is, and what needs to be done.