21 Aug 2019

Who to trust in the digital world?

Robin Campbell-Burt – Director

The excellent BBC tech journo Rory Cellan-Jones has just published an article: ‘Who will pay for trusted news?. As he says, it is good news for journalists that more people than ever before are worried about misinformation and are turning to reputable sources for content.

The Digital News Report, which he quotes, has found that 55 per cent of respondents said that they were concerned about misinformation. Furthermore, 70 per cent in the UK stated that they are concerned about what is real and what is fake on the internet.

Traditional sources of news – newspapers and broadcasters – seem to be coming back into vogue, so there may be light at the end of the tunnel for many media outlets struggling to make a profit in recent years as they face the headwinds of digital disruption and declining advertising revenue.

However, I have two concerns. The first is about the maturity of citizens in their consumption of news in an era of significant political polarisation. Nic Newman, one of the research report’s authors said: “People feel that the media, particularly organisations which claim to be impartial, are not reflecting their views.”

The big question is, do people have greater trust in certain news sources because of the reputation of the publisher, or is it because what is published simply confirms what they already think?

My concern is that the level of polarisation in the news, combined with a general level of closed thinking in society, is as much to blame for the fall in trust in the internet as the growth of misinformation. People’s sense of what can be trusted has been shaken, which means that we only have trust when we hear opinions that we already agree with. We are scared to get out of our comfort zone when it comes to searching for the truth.

The only way through this problem is for citizens to become more mature in how they respond to what information they consume. Greater thoughtfulness and a willingness to genuinely engage with differing views is the only answer that I can think of that will turn around a lack of trust and engagement with the media.

My second concern is what does this mean for organisations producing content to share on social media?

We work with many clients, producing engaging pieces of content that we then push out through social media. This content is well considered, truthful and carries integrity. But if we have to deal with an increasingly sceptical audience, is it still worth it?

The answer is most certainly yes.

Firstly, as stated, people trust organisations and people that express views that they already have. You have to meet people in their current mindset before you can take them on a new journey. It is therefore more important than ever to find out what target audiences are thinking and tapping into their current attitudes and beliefs.

Secondly, we need to assume that people will not take things at face value. Opinions need to be backed up by evidence. You need spokespeople who have a wealth of experience that shouts to audiences that this is someone to whom they should listen. Furthermore, you need statistics and referenceable sources to provide a solid bed of evidence to support what you say.

Trust is a big issue and every marketing and public relations specialist needs to demonstrate to clients how to respond to a more sceptical world.