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Brief Published: 5 Feb 2021

2021 Edelman Trust Barometer Shows Misinformation 'Epidemic'


Covid-19 is causing a “global erosion of trust” and an “epidemic” of misinformation, Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer reveals. The US consultancy conducted more than 33,000 online surveys worldwide between October and November 2020. We trace how current crises are affecting consumer attitudes towards societal leaders, and giving rise to an infodemic.

  • Trust in China & US Tumbles: The pandemic has eroded trust in institutions and governments. Global perceptions of the US (the nation with the most coronavirus deaths to date – Statista, 2021) and China (where the outbreak originated) in particular have been negatively impacted. Forty per cent of respondents across 26 countries felt deeply distrustful of the US, and 30% said the same of China (Edelman, 2021).
  • Misinformation Breeds Mistrust: Rampant misinformation is stoking fear around the Covid-19 vaccination. Edelman revealed that consumers who don’t fact-check their news sources are less willing to be vaccinated this year than those that do (59% versus 70%). 
    However, trust in all news sources has hit record lows. Social media and owned media are seen as the least reliable (trusted by only 35% and 41% of respondents respectively). Traditional media, though still trusted by 53% of the consumers surveyed, saw the largest drop in trust globally – down eight points from Edelman’s 2020 study.
  • Leadership Credibility Cracks: Trust in “societal leaders” – of which Edelman counts chief executives, government, journalists and religious leaders – has declined. Most notably, consumer trust in CEOs is at an all-time low in several countries.
    How can they win it back? By taking a stand on topical issues and addressing consumers’ pandemic-era concerns. Over two-thirds (68%) of respondents feel that chief executives should step in when governments fail to act, while 86% want CEOs to speak out publicly on societal challenges, such as racism or job automation.
  • The Good News: Businesses are the most trusted institutions worldwide – outdoing NGOs, government and the media, Edelman found. Brands can further nurture this trust by providing unbiased, fact-checked content to stem the Covid-era infodemic – catering to the 53% of respondents who believe that, when the news media fall short, corporations should fill the void.