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Trust in media ‘not disappearing, but changing’

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In the era of “fake news”, social media and surprise poll results, it may be easy to believe that trust in traditional media is disappearing. However, trust expert and INFORM Summit speaker Rachel Botsman believes this is not the case.

Ms Botsman says that trust is transformational and that institutional trust must adapt to the modern, digital world.

Trustworthiness in news media is proven by three things: trust in media channel, trust in the source and trust in the story. Traditional institutional trust is being highly impacted by modern ways of disseminating media, particularly online through social media channels, which have helped to confuse consumers.

This is largely due to the lack of accountability in the online sphere and the rise of echo chambers and fake news.

Early this year, Facebook employed an additional 3000 content moderators, bringing the total to 4500 around the world. While the resources sound impressive, in context of the site, moderators are swamped by content. Approximately, one moderator is charged to over 450 000 users, while the algorithm sifts through 1.3 million posts per minute.

The Facebook Files, leaked to The Guardian in May, demonstrate the convoluted nature of the digital giant’s rules and regulations. Ms Botsman highlighted this during her presentation, asking the audience which of a series of posts should be removed from the platform, often confusing a majority of the attendees.

In the same vein, Facebook’s attempts to stop, or at the very least slow, the spread of fake news has been stunted. Facebook announced its journalism project in January, as a new year’s resolution to improve the site for publishers. One of the major promises was to improve efforts to curb fake news, which appeared across the site during the US elections in 2016.

At the time, the social media giant announced it would be working with Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles, and later joined with independent fact-checking organisation Snopes. The site also listed tips for spotting fake news and ran advertisements in the UK during the lead up to the general election in June. However, these measures still allowed fake news to be available on the site.

As algorithms continue to curate users’ newsfeeds across all digital platforms, including Google, Twitter and Instagram, the echo chamber that is created will continue to proliferate declining trust.

However, Ms Botsman firmly believes that trust in news media is not doomed in the digital age. Instead of traditional institutional trust decaying, it is instead transforming into distributed trust.

Distributed trust is the way in which information is freely shared between individuals, building relationships and trust. While social media highlights this through comment sections and the sharing of information, another key example would be ridesharing app Uber and house sharing website AirBnb. Both examples link users with strangers who, through the use of a rating system and reviews, are then trusted.

The key difference here between the two trust models is that the middleman in institutional trust is removed.

Ms Botsman suggests that news organisations must re-examine the key purpose of their organisation and better position themselves in the online sphere.

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