Executives from Google, Moderna, NAACP on Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer

The firm convened a panel of leaders on Wednesday morning to discuss plummeting trust in institutions.

Edelman convened executives including Ruth Porat, CFO of Google and Alphabet, to discuss falling trust in institutions. (Photo credit: Getty Images).
Edelman convened executives including Ruth Porat, CFO of Google and Alphabet, to discuss falling trust in institutions. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

NEW YORK: The public deeply distrusts institutions and business, according to this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer. And a panel of business and nonprofit leaders convened Wednesday by the agency said they are not surprised.

“I would say every year we read the Trust [Barometer], and what we see is data that codified and quantified what we’re living and feeling,” said Ruth Porat, SVP and CFO of Alphabet and Google. “But it was so profound this year. The U.S. government let us down. You could see it in the COVID-19 data and in the assault on Washington. It is tragic, but we’re living in it. So it is not a surprise.”

Uncertainty, mistrust and the spread of disinformation were the natural result of the decline of traditional media, said NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson, who was also not shocked by the findings.

“Like many of you, I grew up with information sources that were stagnant, like the encyclopedia and the nightly news,” he explained. “Now, information has become so democratized without any guardrails to determine what is fact and what is not fact.”

Johnson said that he and his organization have seen these problems grow over the last four years. As a result, it launched a campaign “addressing one of the social media platforms that refused to address [those] guardrails to keep society and information safe,” he said.

Johnson did not name the platform, but last year, the nonprofit worked with the Anti-Defamation League on the Stop Hate for Profit campaign that called on marketers to pull advertising from Facebook in July.

Edelman published the 2021 edition of its Trust Barometer report on Wednesday morning. It found that the public’s trust in business, government and the media fell noticeably this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Trust in the U.S. and Chinese governments also took a hit. 

Some issues of distrust and disinformation, specifically about COVID-19, may work themselves out, said Stephane Bancel, CEO of Moderna Therapeutics. He said the politicization of health issues is an unfortunate problem, especially during an election year. However, many people who oppose vaccines held that position before the pandemic, he added, and those who are wary of the COVID-19 shot may change their minds when they see recipients “do not drop dead in streets or grow a second head.”

“I think you will see people over time getting the vaccine because it is a good idea and because getting back to a normal life is what we all want to happen,” Bancel said. 

Although he didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, World Health Organization special envoy for COVID-19 David Nabarro said his organization has had to deal with disinformation straight from the top. 

Trump said in May that he would pull the U.S. out of the WHO and claimed the organization had cozied up to China.

“It’s a challenging moment if a major stakeholder addresses us directly saying we are totally biased and incompetent,” Nabarro said. “I hope the trust will increase...Based on my experience with the type of people who work at the World Health Organization, I don't think there is another organization that is so credible.”

Google and parent company Alphabet will continue recent actions to increase trust and combat disinformation by “elevating authoritative voices and [pulling] down bad content and blocking it from ever getting through,” said Porat. 

“We do it in a number of ways,” she explained. “By investing in people to look at how we elevate authoritative info, and we also work with NGOs...Much of what we see as bad information comes through in dog whistles that many of us wouldn’t be able to discern.”

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