THE person you see in the mirror is the most trusted.”
No, that is not a self-help mantra or nostalgia for Michael Jackson’s old hit Man in the Mirror.
Rather, as the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals, that is a common belief in the world when it comes to trust.
People now are increasingly reliant on a “person like yourself” (rising 6% in trust) more than the “leaders” of society like CEOs, government officials, technical experts or even academic experts, according to global communications firm Edelman’s annual survey that measures trust levels in the world.
Says Edelman Malaysia managing director Robert Kay, it reflects the way people in Malaysia are increasingly sharing and weighing information and opinions online.
“When it comes to information on social networking sites, content sharing sites and online-only information, Malaysians trust friends and families more at 74% compared to a company CEO at 57% or elected officials at 53%,” shares Kay at the launch of the Barometer in Kuala Lumpur last Tuesday.
For its fifth survey in Malaysia, Edelman polled 1,350 Malaysians online from October to November last year.
What some might find surprising is that in today’s celebrity-obsessed world, online personalities rake in only 45% “believers”, while celebrities rank last in their trustworthiness at 30%.
Interestingly, Malaysians’ overall trust in online content, specifically that shared on social media has dipped seven points to 42%.
Kay points to the rampant sharing of misinformation online in the past year as the main reason.
Consequently, search engines hold their lead as the most trusted source for information at 66%, he adds, as people feel they have more control over what they read and see.
The rise in peer-to-peer trust inevitably coincides with the decline in public faith in public institutions and the business world.
Faith in the press among the “informed public”, however, has jumped 13% – from 46% last year to 59% this year.
Asked how much they trust the media – on a scale of zero to nine – to do the right thing, Malaysian citizens say they have a lot more faith in the press than before.
This, says Edelman, puts Malaysia’s more informed citizens’ trust in media at the same level as the elite of the United States.
“Malaysia has one of the biggest rises in media trust among the informed public globally, possibly due to the constant coverage of alleged corruption at 1MDB,” Kay notes, stressing that it is crucial for the media to continue pursuing rigorous, balanced and transparent reporting to maintain credibility.
While the survey did not distinguish between trust in local and international media, the trust in the media in Asia highlights the perceived role of the media in this region, Edelman Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa CEO David Brain reportedly said in Mumbrella Asia, a discussion site on the region’s media.
“The media – through Western eyes – is expected to keep politicians to account, but in Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, there is ‘a social contract that the role of the media is about nation building’, and less about revealing the truth,” Brain had explained.
In a panel discussion on the Barometer results, The Malaysian Insider CEO Jahabar Sadiq points out that even as trust in business captains and political leaders fell, those who are perceived to be critical and caring of society and are vocal on social media, such as CIMB group chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak and former Cabinet minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, are deemed as “trustworthy”.
Comparing Malaysia to Britain and the United States, Umno Youth exco member Shahril Hamdan suggests the dip in public trust towards the government is a natural development as the nation matures.
“As democracy matures, the cynicism level of people toward the government increases.
“Regardless of how the government communicates or performs, people will put less trust in the government and its leaders.”
Maxis Malaysia Head of Consumer Business Dushyanthan Vathiyanathan believes that it is time for public institutions and the business sector to transform and engage more with people.
“People now are interested in knowing what is happening and not in what you tell them.
“You have to be transparent with them and inform them of anything and everything. That’s because now they have information and do their checks.”