Trust Crashing: An Unintended Consequence of Social Media

The red-hot topic at a recent Facebook conference turned out not to be the scuttle about whom was “in” or “out” of the social media spotlight. The blistering topic of the day was that ages-old, granddaddy concept we call Trust. At the company’s Disneyesque headquarters in Menlo Park outside of San Francisco, sitting peacefully on the bayside waterfront, the idea boats were rocking around two trust issues:

  • how organizations can establish trust and
  • how to get executives to connect effectively with employees and customers during these unusual times.

Executives from Walmart, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and several hundred others converged to network and learn more about navigating the challenges of social media-whose promise was to w32qachieve authentic versus staged communication.

Standing out as a speaker, CEO Richard Edelman covered his company’s well-established annual Edelman Trust Barometer (ETB). The results of the most recent one upended all previous data to reveal what you and I both already know. Trust is in crisis. Only, it’s worse than I even imagined.

Edelman said, “To rebuild trust and restore faith in the system, institutions must step outside of their traditional roles and work toward a new, more integrated operating model that puts people — and the addressing of their fears — at the center of everything they do.”*

The fact that people rarely trust anyone, as the current ETB reports, has been an unintended consequence of social media such as Facebook. Choosing not to go completely to the negative, I like to think that some of what’s happening is a natural result of what we might consider to be “too much information.” We have to draw the lines somewhere to maintain sanity. As the ETR indicates, we used to feel we mostly could rely on certain people, institutions, and companies. Today, exhibits a new paradigm. Depending on what side of the fence we sit, we vilify those on the other side, justifiably or not.

This quirk of human thinking, confirmation bias, is well known among psychologists. It means we look for information that aligns with our way of thinking and reject what is different to us. As for the media and trust, the current trust disconnect contrasts sharply with the pre-Internet past. Once, well-educated citizenry ingested a variety of divergent periodicals, gathering different perspectives along the way. Today, differences ignite anger. We zealously unsubscribe and unfriend those who think differently from us-as if such thoughts might contaminate our souls-instead of providing valuable food for thought.

When, I wonder, did “different” become the clarion call of an almost warlike divisiveness and on such a grand scale as the ETB measures? I’m sure each of us can point to more than one example of poor journalism or other indignity we experienced that clouded our view of the whole fleet of media. Naturally, we can all relate to the fact that it is more comfortable being surrounded by like-minded folks. On the other hand, an over-abundance of like-mindedness is stifling.

Most importantly, will it create the kind of world we desire for our future selves? Unwilling to predict the future, I can say the world I want for my kids is filled with the richness of many human perspectives. Rather than stifle those perspectives, I seek to understand them. My experience in life reflects the idea that we need differences to find solutions to our world’s problems.

Edelman is on course. To rebuild trust and restore faith in the system, people must be at the center of everything we do. And to do that, we must communicate from a center anchored in truth.


*Source: – Richard Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer