Consumers might have more trust in institutions overall, but they no longer trust the traditional markers of information credibility. Statistics from Edelman Malaysia's Trust Barometer study showed that 57% do not trust CEOs to do what is right while the same can be said for government officials (53%), and journalists (51%). Instead, consumers are now placing trust in leaders who are more "local" and familiar such as individuals in their own communities (68%) and their employer's CEO (68%).
Also, majority believe that most news organisations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position (65%) than informing the public about truthful facts. At the same time, nearly half of surveyed respondents believe the media is not being objective and non-partisan in their news reporting. Without trust in societal leaders and news organisations, Malaysians are looking for alternative sources of information, increasingly relying on social media and search to shape their opinions rather than conventional media channels. Trust in social media grew by nine points to 48% this year while trust in search jumped by four points to 66%.
Edelman noted that this trend is a concern because only 29% of Malaysians practice good information hygiene, which is defined as knowing the best practices to manage one’s information diet. The study showed that 65% of respondents share or forward news items that they find to be interesting, but of those, only 29% practice good information hygiene. According to Edelman, this suggests that a significant amount of unvetted information is being consumed and disseminated among Malaysians. That said, Malaysians still had better information hygiene compared to respondents in Asia Pacific as a whole. Edelman found that only 25% of respondents in the region have good information hygiene.
Amidst this landscape of information distrust, businesses have emerged as the single most credible and trusted source of information for most Malaysians, with 66% voting their employer as the most trusted source of information to help navigate the crisis, even higher than government communications (60%) and news media reports (63%).
The greatest opportunity for businesses to gain trust is by serving as a guardian of information quality, which increased the likelihood of trust by 5.8%. Additionally, the business is expected to act for the long term. Embracing sustainability (+5.7%), delivering a robust health and safety response to COVID-19 (+4.8%), driving economic prosperity (+4.7%) as well as focusing on long-term thinking over short-term profits (+4.6%) are actions associated with an increase in trust.
The majority of Malaysians (71%) now expect CEOs to lead with empathy in driving positive change and demonstrating accountability to the communities they serve. Most respondents (83%) also stated that CEOs should step in to complement the government’s efforts in fixing societal problems. According to Edelman, top of the to-do list for CEOs is to publicly speak out on societal challenges ranging from the pandemic’s impact (67%), job automation (63%), and local community issues (52%).
However, the business sector cannot take this on alone. It has to tie up with other institutions to address societal challenges, whilst also ensuring that both consumers and employees have a seat at the table. According to Edelman, 79% of consumers and 76% of employees believe their voices should not only be heard but also contribute to decisions that are made by a company. Activism is also on the rise in the workplace, with 58% of those who are employed agreeing that they are more likely today than a year ago, to voice their objections and engage in workplace protests if they strongly disagree with a company action or policy.
Interestingly, Malaysians more worried about losing their jobs (89%), cybersecurity (77%) and climate change (76%) instead of contracting COVID-19. In a year of mandatory Movement Control Orders, 71% are also worried about losing their personal freedoms. Meanwhile, 65% worry that the pandemic will accelerate job loss due to automation, while 53% of respondents have witnessed layoffs or reductions in the workforce of their company they work for.
Christopher de Cruz, Edelman Malaysia's group director and head of crisis management, said the mandate from the Malaysian public is clear: institutions must partner with one another to solve societal issues.
"Business, government, media and NGOs must find a common purpose and take collective action to address inequalities, starting with foundational problems. Especially in times of turbulence and volatility, trust is what holds society together, and how growth is rebuilt for the nation at large," he added.
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