Public trust crumbling amid Covid-19, fake news: Survey

57% believe govt leaders, business chiefs, journalists spread falsehoods

The global survey found that confidence in traditional media outlets dropped 8 percentage points to 53 per cent, although they still attracted more trust than social media, which fell 5 percentage points to 35 per cent.
The global survey found that confidence in traditional media outlets dropped 8 percentage points to 53 per cent, although they still attracted more trust than social media, which fell 5 percentage points to 35 per cent.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Trust in governments, business chiefs and media is crumbling amid a perceived mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic by leaders and a widespread feeling among ordinary citizens that they are being misled, a global survey has found.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, which for two decades has polled thousands of people on their trust in core institutions, found 57 per cent of people believe government leaders, business chiefs and journalists are spreading falsehoods or exaggerations.

Breaking down responses according to a person's media habits and voting patterns, the survey found a greater hesitancy on vaccines among those who rely mostly on social media, and underlined the polarisation of politics in the United States.

"The violent storming of the US Capitol last week and the fact that only one-third of people are willing to get a Covid-19 vaccine crystallise the dangers of misinformation," said Dr Richard Edelman, whose Edelman communications group produces the survey.

The figure cited by Dr Edelman referred to the fact that an average of only 33 per cent of respondents in 27 countries covered by the survey said they would take the vaccine as soon as possible.

A further 31 per cent said they would take it within a year.

The survey was conducted between Oct 19 and Nov 18 among more than 33,000 respondents, with a supplement carried out last month after the US presidential election.

Governments, which in a previous survey conducted early in the pandemic saw a rise in their trust ratings from a public who wanted them to prioritise saving lives over the economy, saw sharp losses in trust levels as the year progressed.

As a whole, confidence in the institution of government fell from an all-time high of 65 per cent last May to 53 per cent by the year end. Losses were particularly acute in South Korea, Britain and China.

Trust in media, which had already been ebbing in the survey since 2019, fell further.

Confidence in traditional media outlets dropped 8 percentage points to 53 per cent, although they still attracted more trust than social media, which fell 5 percentage points to 35 per cent.

Strong national majorities across the board considered the media as doing a poor job at being objective and non-partisan, with Japan in Asia, Italy in Europe and Argentina in South America all registering particularly high scores of mistrust.

In the US, levels of trust diverged according to political affiliation: While 63 per cent of President-elect Joe Biden's voters trusted journalists, that figure fell to 21 per cent for voters of President Donald Trump, who has long denigrated mainstream media as "fake news".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2021, with the headline 'Public trust crumbling amid Covid-19, fake news: Survey'. Print Edition | Subscribe