Edelman SA Trust Barometer 2022 reveals a trend of mistrust

Edelman South Africa has released local findings from the global communications company’s 2022 Trust Barometer report, The cycle of distrustrevealing that 69% of South Africans surveyed tend to be suspicious first – not to believe news until they have proof that something is trustworthy.

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The global and local results show a cycle of mistrust spurred by waning trust in government and media institutions that are seen as ultimately seeking short-term benefits through hype and division to gain clicks and votes.

These findings indicate that it will be up to our most trusted institutions – businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – to restore confidence in our country’s capabilities and stem the tide of misinformation.

“There are solutions to restore trust in these vital institutions, following the example of their NGO and corporate counterparts,” said Karena Crerar, Managing Director of Edelman South Africa.

“Our results suggest that the quality of information disseminated is the strongest trust factor, followed by accountability of other institutions for wrongdoing, strong communication, and transparency,” Crerar said.

All of these qualities, she said, are exemplified by high-level business and NGO leaders, who set the agenda by calling for transparency, real information and accountability.

“While these results show a disturbing trend towards a very fearful and disillusioned society, the good news is that we can use this information to create change. As communicators, we need to think very carefully about the responsibility we have towards the industry, our customers and society to promote better understanding and improved levels of trust,” said Crerar.

Edelman has studied trust for more than 20 years and believes it is the ultimate currency in the relationship that all institutions – businesses, governments, NGOs and media – establish with their stakeholders. Each year, the Edelman Trust Barometer is widely cited in academic journals and global publications. It is widely regarded as “the gold standard for measuring global shifts in trust and public opinion of leaders”.

According to data from the Trust Barometer, restoring trust will be key to societal stability by recognizing:

  • The societal role of companies is here to stay, with more expectations on companies to tackle social issues and speak out on issues related to their respective industries.
  • The importance of demonstrating tangible progress; showing how the systems work and where they succeed in restoring confidence in a better future.
  • Leadership should focus on long-term thinking and be solution-oriented rather than short-term gains.
  • Every institution must provide reliable information, sending clear, consistent and factual information and communication to break the cycle of mistrust.

Other findings from the South African report include:

  • 78% of South African respondents feared that false information or fake news would be weaponized; with these concerns reaching an all-time high.
  • 72% of respondents believe that South Africans lack the capacity to have constructive and civil debates on issues on which they disagree.
  • Job loss is the top societal fear in South Africa, followed by climate change, hackers and cyberattacks, loss of freedoms as a citizen, and prejudice and racism.

Today’s problems cannot be solved in a vacuum. From tackling climate change and racial injustice to planning for the future of work and supporting employee wellbeing, people’s expectations of institutions to come together to build a better world have never never been so high. Together, institutions must prove that the system works for everyone and focus on long-term thinking by choosing solutions rather than divisions.

“All institutions have a role to play in addressing these challenges and it is incumbent on all of us as leaders to see our role as more than just running a business, we have a society that we need to care for and participate in. Without it, we have nothing to do,” says Crerar.