Fake news has been vilified among both liberal and conservative groups, especially in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Now, a rigorous global survey shows that intentionally inaccurate stories contributed to a decline in how much people across the world trust the media.

The Edelman Trust Barometer found that in 2018, fake news, and distrust of social platforms and search engines, eroded trust of media in countries across the world. Trust in the United States as an institution also fell drastically between 2017 and 2018.

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“We find the world in a new phase in the loss of trust: the unwillingness to believe information, even from those closest to us,” wrote Richard Edelman, the president and CEO of Edelman, which produces the annual Edelman Trust Barometer.

The Edelman Trust Barometer conducted online surveys of more than 33,000 people in 28 countries to find out who they trust, who they don’t trust and how that’s changed over time. The 2018 report was published in January.


Trust in media erodes

Media is the least-trusted global institution included in the Edelman survey for the first time in the survey’s 18-year history. People now distrust media more than government, businesses and non-governmental organizations.

That is partly due to fake news and the inability to discern real news from fabricated reports. Nearly two-thirds of people surveyed said the average person can’t tell good journalism from fake news.

Search engines and social media sites also influenced the declining trust in media. Respondents said they defined media not just as journalists and news organizations, but also platforms such as search, social media, and news apps. Trust in platforms fell 2 points globally and 11 points in the United States.

A significant portion of the global population consumes little news, if any. Half of the people surveyed said they consume news less than once a week, and one-quarter said they don’t read any news because it is too upsetting, the Edelman survey found.


In the U.S., trust in media was split among political affiliation. Twenty-seven percent of people who voted for Trump trust the media, while 61 percent of Clinton voters trust the media. Among both Trump and Clinton voters, only 35 percent trust the government.


Six out of 10 respondents criticized media for being politicized, and 50 percent said media organizations are elitist.

Although trust of media declined, trust in journalism rose 5 percent globally.

Trust in U.S. takes biggest dive in survey history

The survey asked people in countries across the world whether they trust countries as an institution. The U.S. took the biggest tumble out of any country in the 2018 survey.

“The U.S. is enduring the worst collapse ever recorded in the history of the Edelman Trust Barometer,” Richard Edelman wrote.

Decline in trust in the U.S. fell 9 percent among the general population, from 52 percent to 43 percent. Among the "informed public," which was defined as college educated, wealthier people who consume a significant amount of media, trust in the U.S. feel 23 points, from 68 percent to 45 percent.


People are also losing trust in their peers. Just 54 percent of people surveyed said they would trust “a person like yourself,” down 6 percent from last year and an all-time low for the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Who do people trust?

Some institutions and individuals are still generally trusted. About six in 10 respondents to the Edelman survey said technical experts and academics are trusted. Seventy-five percent of people trust the technology sector, and 70 percent trust the education sector.

Companies headquartered in Canada also garnered high rates of trust, at 68 percent.

One emerging group of people is gaining trust and taking on a new role in addition to their job duties. Many CEOs are becoming public figures and speaking out about national news. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, the public is trusting them more. CEOs are now trusted by 44 percent of respondents, up 7 percent from last year.

In addition, more than half of respondents felt the number one job of CEOs now is to build trust, instead of delivering quality products or services.

Read the full report