Social Media – Still a Force for Good or a Mistrusted Channel in 2018?


It was social media companies that dropped the most in public trust over the past year, according to the 2018 Trust Barometer from Edelmen.

Public opinion has flatlined for business, government, media and NGOs in the UK, but where social media was once a beacon for free speech and democracy, the public awareness of fake news, content linked to extremism and cyberbullying for example, is highlighting demand for more responsibility and regulation.

Whilst most people agreed that social media helped to keep in touch with friends and family and was easy to share content through, the jury was split over whether it was a force for good. A majority also agreed that social media companies take advantage of people’s loneliness.

Traditional media saw a whopping 61% increase in trust, the highest since 2012, however people are consuming less of it, with more now actively avoiding it (19%).

There’s also a boost in the trust in experts and leaders – critical when considering who your spokespeople are. CEO’s saw a lift in trust, but people still expect them to lead change (60%) rather than wait for regulators to do so. Technical and academic experts topped the ranks, with ‘a person just like yourself’ coming in third spot.

In a post EU Referendum UK, Brits’ distrust is growing across the board, with a more pessimistic economic outlook and rising concerns over the NHS and rise of political or religious extremism.

The Youth View

Interestingly, it was young people who felt most concerned about the UK’s trade relationship with the EU and rest of the world and, perhaps unsurprisingly,  58% said they were opposed to Brexit (compared to 43% of the rest of the population).

Britain’s youth were as concerned as the rest of the population with the widening gap between the rich and poor, and for both groups the biggest concern was rising intolerance and extreme views, although this was slightly less of a concern for youth compared to the rest of the population.

1 in 5 young people believed their economic prospects would worsen over the next five years.

When it came to media, young people were even more cynical than the wider population over the validity and agenda of news. They also felt their life was busier and that they couldn’t keep up to date with news content, with another theme of traditional news not being in a format they want or representative of their view.

Young people also seem to distrust government more due to poor behaviour (mistreatment, sexual harassment) being protected, with a lack of jobs being created felt more by Britain’s young people.

Social’s Profile

With mounting pressure over transparency and action over responsible content, social media giants are positioned between regulators and public opinion.

Whilst this won’t get you running from your Twitter feed, the use of social channels will continue to challenge organisations in terms of the tone, type and format of their content.

Engaging Britain’s youth in the news agenda continues to prove a challenge, not least with the growing cynicism over hidden agendas and trust of channels.

Finding the right voice(s) and channels has always been the maxim of communications professionals and the latest trust barometer is another confirmation of that. Not that anyone was about to – but let’s not think social is settled!

Photo by Leio McLaren on Unsplash

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