In recent years, our relationship to media has been brought into the spotlight by political events such as Brexit and Trump’s election win and deliberate campaigns to raise doubts about the authority and credibility of news published by media outlets. But why is it important that populations trust the news? Research by the American Press Institution demonstrates a correlation between factors of trust and whether people engage with particular sources and news in general. Less engagement means news media translates to weaker financial viability and less vibrant and serious journalism. Moreover, less engagement in news means a less informed public, thus weakening informed participation in political discourse and democratic processes.
Therefore, we should be concerned that fewer than half (44%) of respondents surveyed globally by the Reuters Institute say they trust the media most of the time. Trust in news obtained through search engines and social media is particularly weak. Only 34% reported that they trust the news they find in search engines (34%) most of the time. Trust drops even further when we consider social media. Only 23% of the global sample said they trust news from social media of the time.
Among East and Southeast Asian economies trust in news varies significantly. Respondents in South Korea have the lowest level of trust with only 25% of respondents reporting that they trust news most of the time. In Malaysia, 30% and in Taiwan 32% report trusting news most of the time. In Japan, 43%, and in Singapore, 47% trust the news most of the time.
However, populations of Asian economies demonstrate considerable scepticism to online and social media based news sources. In Japan, only 25% have trust in the news in search and only 20% trust news from social media. In South Korea, 23% trust in the news in search and just 19% trust news from social media. In Singapore and Malaysia, there is more trust in news from online searches but trust in news on social media is equally low. In Singapore, 32% of respondents trust news from online searchers but just 20% trust news from social media. In Malaysia, 30% trust news from online searches and 21% trust news from social media.
The low level of trust in news from social media raises some important questions. For starters, given the evidence of misinformation and disinformation circulating online, a bit of scepticism and distrust of news on social media is probably healthy, so is there a healthy level of distrust and what form should it take? Secondly, why do populations of some economies use social media as a source of news at a high rate while exhibiting a high rate of distrust in social media sourced news? For instance, only 21% of survey respondents reported trusting news on social media, yet 72% access news from social media, including 64% accessing news from Facebook and 54% who get news from Whatsapp. Distrust should correspond to less engagement, so what is the course of this anomaly? Could it be due to the passive nature of news consumption in social media feeds and in chat groups compared with the deliberate consumption of news in newspapers and TV news broadcasts?