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Businesses, CEOs Now More Trusted Than Media, Government

Kali Hays
·4 min read

The last year of a global pandemic and political upheaval has been tough for most, including most businesses, but the sector is coming out on top of a new survey on what people around the world put their trust in.

Among 33,000 people surveyed in 28 countries, 61 percent said they “trust” businesses more than government or media, which are now only trusted by 53 percent and 51 percent of people, respectively, according to a new survey from Edelman, the public relations firm and consultancy. In the U.S., 54 percent of people trust in businesses, while only 45 percent of people trust in the media and only 42 percent trust in the government.

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“This is the era of information bankruptcy,” Edelman chief executive officer Richard Edelman said. “We’ve been lied to by those in charge, and media sources are seen as politicized and biased. The result is a lack of quality information and increased divisiveness.”

He noted that 57 percent of people in the U.S. see the current divide between people’s politics and ideologies “so extreme” that they see the country in the midst of a “cold civil war.”

“The violent storming of the U.S. Capitol last week and the fact that only one-third of people are willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible crystallize the dangers of misinformation,” Edelman added.

In the report, the firm referred to the current moment as a “raging infodemic,” finding that trust in any kind of information from any source is at an all-time low. Traditional media is only trusted by 53 percent of people, down eight points; owned media by 41 percent, down five points; social media by 35 percent, down 5 points, and search engines by 56 percent, down six points.

In the U.S., trust in news journalists differs along political lines, which is unsurprising considering Republicans, President Donald Trump and even the media itself have spent the last four years deriding the media, save for those outlets they agree with.

Those who voted for President-elect Joe Biden trust journalists overall, with 63 percent of respondents saying so, an increase of three points, while only 21 percent of those who voted for Trump do, a decline of 15 points in only the last year.

Meanwhile, a vast majority of respondents, 75 percent, admitted to having what Edelman termed “poor information hygiene,” meaning they do not verify information they read, do not engage with legitimate news, do not avoid information echo chambers and that they do share “unvetted” information.

This group was also found to cross over with those who are not willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine this year. Only 59 percent of people with “poor” information habits are willing to get vaccinated, compared to 70 percent with “good” habits. Still, false and misleading information about the vaccine is rampant online and Black people are said to have “even greater hesitancy toward the vaccine,” Edelman found, given the mix of targeted misinformation and “past and present medical inequities and mistreatment.”

In the U.S. alone, where 52 percent of people are found to have “poor” information habits, only 59 percent of respondents said they’re willing to get the vaccine this year and only 33 percent said they’re willing to do so “as soon as possible.” Health scientists have said at least 75 percent of the nation’s population needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity from the coronavirus.

In the U.S., one of the only things people who voted for Biden or Trump agreed on in the survey is that they have trust in the CEOs running the companies they work for.

Among Biden voters, 68 percent said they trust their CEOs, an increase of seven points, while 61 percent of Trump voters said the same, an increase of one point. Yet both groups distrust other corporate CEOs, with only 41 percent of Biden voters saying they trust corporate CEOs in general, a decline of seven points, and only 35 percent of Trump voters saying the same, down 13 points.

With such newly high expectations of the executives people work for, so all CEOs in effect, Edelman found CEOs have “new demands” placed on them. Eighty percent of people want CEOs to “speak out on important societal issues” and two-thirds of people expect them to step in “when the government does not fix societal problems.”

“There is a void in leadership,” said Dave Samson, Edelman’s vice chairman of corporate affairs, “that CEOs must fill.”

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