The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer data made one thing abundantly clear: people are deeply disenchanted – with the government, with businesses, with the very notions of capitalism and democracy. It’s perhaps no surprise that the British public is the least trusting in the world, second only to people in Russia.
And tech isn’t exempt. This year the global tech sector suffered the largest drop in trust across all 15 industries surveyed, alongside entertainment, falling by four points from 2019 to 2020.
In the UK, trust in tech dropped by five points to 64%. People are losing faith.
Now, 3 in 5 British people believe that technological change is happening too fast. 72% think the government is inept and unprepared to regulate technology effectively. The warning lights on the Trust in tech dashboard are starting to flash, and the industry should take heed.
Social media platforms have left people questioning if what they’re seeing and hearing is real (67%) with deepfakes, fake news and omnipotent targeted ads leaving many feeling vulnerable to manipulation and unable to discern truth. They’re worried about rising extremism, declining tolerance (39%) and false information being weaponized (72%) after seeing social platforms leveraged by small groups of individuals to spread hate. They fear job displacement from automation and feel like their skills are becoming obsolescent (75%) as technology disrupts every industry.
These results should serve as a wake-up call to the whole sector. And it’s not just social media platforms and big tech companies that need to sit up and pay attention either – everyone is under close scrutiny.
Do the right thing
2019 was a great year for the UK’s tech sector. It was a record-breaker, seeing investments soar to a massive £10.1 billion – a £3.1 billion increase from 2018 and outpacing both China and the United States (according to a recent report from Tech Nation). But Edelman’s Trust Barometer findings are a stark reminder that we mustn’t fall asleep at the wheel. The onus is on businesses to ensure that this explosive growth is measured with the appropriate checks and balances, and that innovation doesn’t come at the cost of people’s rights, privacy and wellbeing.
Right now people aren’t convinced that companies are acting in their best interests and feel powerless to influence the behaviour of businesses, which they believe are essentially self-serving. If companies want to rewrite this narrative, they will need to act with integrity, show transparency and proactively lead change.
That starts with clearly communicating their values and demonstrating the positive impact they have in the world. 66% of people agreed that companies should be able to take actions that both increase profits and improve conditions for the communities where they operate. Having a purpose beyond just increasing their bottom-line, putting this purpose at the very core of everything the company does and communicating it authentically to stakeholders, will be essential.
And this can’t just be talk – it must be followed by action. For a sector that’s strapline has been to “move fast”, workable solutions to some of the unintended repercussions of new technologies are often slow to materialise. People are wary of ‘woke-washing’ and brands that leverage purpose messaging purely as a marketing tool risk further damaging trust. Bold proclamations alone don’t cut it anymore, people are clued up and want to see that real changes are being made.
3 in 4 people think that business and government should work together to solve social issues and, as people don’t feel the government is equipped to regulate technology, there’s an opportunity for companies themselves to take the lead here and hold themselves accountable by working collaboratively with government to address the big issues like data privacy, automation and sustainability – to proactively be responsible business leaders
Trust in technology may be shaken, but I remain optimistic. I’m a firm believer in tech’s potential to change the world for the better and have a genuinely positive impact on people’s lives. I’m inspired by the companies out there that are leading by example – especially the new generation of start-ups and scale-ups, that are so deeply committed to their core purpose, mission and vision. That’s a mindset that every company, regardless of size, should aspire to.
Here at Edelman we are a team of technologists and therefore optimists. Technology is a powerful vehicle for change. My prediction is that over the next few years we’ll really see the industry rally together to drive positive action, and that this will begin to restore people’s faith in technology – this is the only way forward The question you must ask yourself as a firm operating in this space is do you want to lead, or be lead?
Click here to download the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer report. If you would like to learn more about the Trust Barometer findings and what they mean for tech, please reach out to Gerry.Wisniewski@edelman.com.