Jan 13, 2021 - Politics & Policy

The raging trust crisis and its consequences

Illustration of tech's trust gap

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Americans are losing trust in leaders across every area of their lives — and the information coming from every source of their news, according to the 21st annual Edelman Trust Barometer, out Wednesday, which measures trust in institutions globally.

Why it matters: The sobering report shows that people crave facts more than ever, but most have bad habits and a growing distrust of everything from journalists to vaccines and contact tracing.

Details: Across every type of institution — media, government, business and NGOs — trust has fallen to historic lows, according to the report.

  • Business is the only institution that is now perceived as being both ethical and competent enough to solve the world's problems.
  • CEOs are the only societal leaders trusted to tell the truth and fix problems.

The trust deficit has gotten so bad that people don't know who or what to believe anymore, and they don't even trust themselves to get facts right.

  • A majority of people around the world believe that journalists, government leaders and business leaders are all purposely trying to mislead people by spreading misinformation.
  • Most people have terrible information hygiene, and admit that they don't actively verify information, avoid echo chambers or share things without first vetting information.

The big picture: The 2021 Trust Barometer, titled "Declaring Information Bankruptcy," offers one of the bleakest pictures of societal trust globally in the past two decades, thanks in large part to the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The data shows that even the most powerful countries — like the U.S., China, Germany and the U.K. — are experiencing a record trust deficit, especially in government.
  • Trust in government in the U.S. has crashed following the 2020 election, especially among Republicans.

That trust gap has real-world consequences. Only 59% of people in the U.S. say they are willing to take the vaccine if it becomes available to them within a year. Those who are unwilling to take the vaccine tend to have poor information hygiene.

What to watch: The data suggests that two of the biggest global economies — the U.S. and China — have fallen below India as now the most trusting country in the world.

  • "Neither the U.S. or China have the trust capital they need to be global leaders in this time of multiple crises," per the report.
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