• Adam Harper

Threats, facts and trust

In the face of new, complex and frightening threats, we are simultaneously becoming more and less trusting. Facts matter more than ever before.

When the world is full of complex and frightening threats, who and what do you trust?

I go straight to top tier mainstream media. But according to the data in Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer, my attitude is at once true to type and surprisingly rare. As a member of what Edelman defines as the “informed public,” I am much more likely to trust the media and other institutions than the population as a whole. But only 58% of this group, and 47% of the general population, said they trusted the media in 2019.

That’s a terrifying datapoint, but perhaps not a surprising one. There is a strange paradox in our relationship with events in the world around us at the moment.

First, fact-based science has never been so dominant as a means of understanding the world and its future. The tipping point we have surely reached in public opinion on climate change reflects this clearly.

At the same time, we seem to have become more credulous than at any time since the pre-scientific era. You’ve seen the conspiracy theories and other fantastical stuff that spreads like wildfire across social media. Sadly, it wouldn't happen so much if some people weren’t taking it seriously.

It’s difficult to explain the purchase these naïve or malicious falsehoods have on us in the age of reason. Perhaps our rationalism has been turned inside out, making us sceptics about what we should be able to generally trust and believers in myths once again.

It is almost as if the burden of proof has become impossible for reality to bear. For example, because it cannot be proven beyond all doubt that the media isn’t part of conspiracy to manipulate opinion for the benefit of big business and the deep state, it must be possible that it is. And so ideas like this take hold, nurtured by the impossibility of proving a negative.

It should be obvious that this is the road to madness, not to mention danger. Fortunately, the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer shows a slight improvement over 2018 in terms of trust in NGOs, business, government and media. It’s a modest encouragement but one that allows us to hope that more people will seek facts from trusted sources (such as scientists and, yes, the media) rather than be beguiled by fictions.

Of course, trust must be earned. But it’s precisely because the threats we face today are complex and frightening that solutions based on acknowledged facts provided by trusted sources are so important.

Business leaders and communicators naturally have a role to play in enabling this to happen. Real stories, based on facts and authentic views, have always been the best way to represent an organisation’s values and purpose. That is more true – and more important – now than ever before. 

5 views0 comments