The statistics are grimmer: mistrust in both government and media, says Edelman, feeds a “cycle of distrust [that] threatens social stability. Government and media feed [a] cycle of division and disinformation for votes and clicks[, leaving] NGOs and business pressured to take on societal problems beyond their abilities.”
Trust in government has plummeted. In the past year, government has lost 12 points on the ethical score and 41 points on the competence score. Among societal leaders, government leaders are the least trusted group.
Meanwhile, nearly half of respondents (46%) see the media as a divisive force in society. Seventy-six percent worry about fake news being used as a weapon. Fifty-eight percent say the media is not doing well on their pandemic response, while 66% say they’re not doing well on climate change solutions. Journalists were the second least-trusted leadership group, and 67% think journalists are purposely trying to mislead people.
So what’s the solution to regain trust? Edelman identified the top five areas for potential trust gains. Number one on the list, for every institution, was information quality: Is this institution a reliable source of trustworthy information?
Organizations looking to increase trust could also focus on their ethical score, which was calculated on four different dimensions: Is this institution purpose-driven? Is it honest? Is it fair? Do they have a vision for the future that I believe in?
This stuff matters, since 58% buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values; 60% use values to choose a place to work; and 64% invest based on them.
If I had to paraphrase my takeaways from the Barometer, it would boil down to two things: It’s more important than ever to be trustworthy, and yet we’re dropping the ball.
We’re dropping the ball because we consider clicks and views to be our primary purpose, rather than the necessary outcome of delivering high-quality content.
We’re dropping the ball because we’re addicted to being clever and snarky and antagonistic. We're addicted to picking sides, and to “winning.”
We’re dropping the ball because, as we get more polarized, we get rewarded for doubling down. As Thomas Edsall wrote in the New York Times this week, “Polarization has become a force that feeds on itself, gaining strength from the hostility it generates, finding sustenance on both the left and the right.”
But we don’t have to double down on polarization. We don’t have to feed the division machine. We can choose another way.
This week, President Biden got caught on a hot mic calling Fox News reporter Peter Doocy a “stupid son of a bitch”: crack cocaine for a polarized world. So what happened next? Biden called Doocy and apologized. And Doocy -- wait for it -- accepted the apology.
When Sean Hannity tried to push him to be angrier, Doocy replied, "Hey, Sean, the world is on the brink of, like, World War III right now with all of this stuff going on. I appreciate that the President took a couple of minutes out this evening while he was still at this desk to give me a call and clear the air… So we can move on. We can now move forward. There will be years -- three to seven years -- of opportunities to ask him about different stuff."
It’s more important than ever to be trustworthy. Let’s try, as Doocy and Biden did, to aim higher.