Edelman Trust Barometer 2018, PPR in Countering Fake News & Rebuilding Trust, PR in Countering Fake News & Rebuilding Trust, PR rebuilds trust, PR counters fake news

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Trust in U.S. institutions has collapsed. No country saw steeper declines in trust than the United States this past year, according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer. Trust in government fell 14 points among the general population and drove the decline.

Trust in the media also dropped. For the first time in the barometer history, the media is the least trusted institution.  Paradoxically, credibility of journalists rose substantially. Varying definitions of “the media” may explain why. Some people consider social media and search engine results as well as news organizations part of the media. The credibility of “a person like yourself” — often a source of news and information on social media — also dipped to an all-time low.

The Edelman Trust Index now ranks the U.S. the lowest out 28 nations surveyed. For the first time ever, Americans’ trust in their institutions declined while trust in institutions in other countries has increased. China experienced a 27-point gain, more than any other country, and now ranks number one on the index. Normally, trust levels in different countries move largely in lockstep.

Pervasive Worries over Fake News

Globally, nearly seven in 10 respondents worry about fake news or false information being used as a weapon, and 59 percent say it’s becoming more difficult to know if a piece of news was produced by a respected media organization.

Edelman calls the situation a crisis in trust. Fake news is crowding out real news, and some national leaders are bashing the media as inaccurate and biased and communicating directly to the people, bypassing the media.

The survey reveals a marked divergence who people trust. Trust in journalists increased 12 points, and CEOs recorded a seven-percentage point gain, since 2017. Most notably, trust in technical experts and academics (63 percent and 61 percent, respectively) reached high levels. Technical experts, financial industry analysts, and successful entrepreneurs now register credibility levels of 50 percent or higher.

Voices of Expertise Gain Credibility

The takeaway for PR: Corporate communications professionals can better promote their messages with opinions from third-party experts. Wining the support of subject matter experts can increase public trust in their companies.

“People’s concern about fake news and their willingness to listen to experts show that they yearn for knowledge,” writes Richard Edelman, president and CEO.

Many PR experts urge companies to add the possibility of a fake news crisis to their PR preparedness plans, employ media monitoring tools to monitor fake news sites for mentions of their brand and industry topics, and react quickly to dispel misinformation.

The research reveals new expectations for corporate leaders. Nearly 7 in 10 respondents say that building trust is the top priority for CEOs. Nearly two-thirds say they want CEOs to take the lead on policy changes instead of waiting for governments.

“This is the time for business to address the wage stagnation of the working class over the past two decades while acknowledging the need to retrain employees who are about to be replaced by automation,” Edelman argues.

Time to Get Involved to Rebuild Trust

It’s imperative to rebuild trust, argue Lisa Ross, Edelman president, and Stephen Kehoe, global chair, reputation. Business and CEOs have a critical role to play, they say. While businesses face different issues depending on their industry sectors, all have urgent issues to address.

Businesses can view the problem as an opportunity, says Kehoe, who urges business leaders to speak out more. “One of the trust-building mandates for business is to be a guardian of information quality – this is permission for business to step up and essentially be a counter-balance to fake news,” Kehoe told the Holmes Report.

Bottom Line: Trust in government and the media in the U.S. has plummeted largely due to pervasive fake news reports and attacks on media outlets, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. However, businesses and corporate leaders can help restore lost trust. The key is to improve the quality of information by emphasizing fact-based research and outside experts and quickly debunking fake news.