Trust in media shows a decreasing trend

Restoring trust in media is an important objective for all stakeholders in the sector

By Mieke Reintjes

Over the past two years, trust in Dutch media decreased, with the largest drop in social media. To understand how trust in Dutch media is changing, we asked more than 1,000 people across five generations to tell us about their trust in various Dutch media and how they think trust can be improved.

Although trust in Dutch media is still relatively high (as indicated by independent research of Mediamonitor 2018), a fourth of all respondents indicate to have less trust than two years ago. Social media have seen the largest slump, while public broadcasters and print media came out best. Three out of four think social media lack control mechanisms to prevent hate messages and fake news.

Online news sites and social media are an important source of information especially among the technoholic generation

Trust in social media and online news is important, both are growing information sources among young people but also to a large extent under older generations. Online news sites are the second most important direct media channel, after public TV networks, and the most important indirect source for people who obtain news via social media.

One third of respondents use social media as a news source, making it the fourth largest direct media channel. Social media are the main source of information for younger generations. For example, Technoholics use social media four times as much as the digitally disengaged generation. Among the different social media channels, Facebook is by far (74%) the most popular information/news source. The opposite applies to printed media. Where printed media is still the number two source among the digitally disengaged generation, it is the second least used source for Technoholics.

One third of respondents use social media as a news source, making it the fourth largest direct media channel. Social media are the main source of information for younger generations. For example, Technoholics use social media four times as much as the digitally disengaged generation. Among the different social media channels, Facebook is by far (74%) the most popular information/news source. The opposite applies to printed media. Where printed media is still the number two source among the digitally disengaged generation, it is the second least used source for Technoholics.

 

One third of respondents use social media as a news source, making it the fourth largest direct media channel. Social media are the main source of information for younger generations. For example, Technoholics use social media four times as much as the digitally disengaged generation. Among the different social media channels, Facebook is by far (74%) the most popular information/news source. The opposite applies to printed media. Where printed media is still the number two source among the digitally disengaged generation, it is the second least used source for Technoholics.

 

Conventional media can fill the ‘trust gap’ by investing in resources to increase information reliability

Independent media are viewed as a greater good in large parts of the world. In addition, social media have proven to be crucial during calamities, national disasters and even revolutions, offering citizens the possibility to contribute to news coverage. On the other hand, we see negative side effects. Data leakage scandals, social media influencing political elections, and the use of social bots to influence the public debate are some of the more recent events affecting trust in media.

All media channels have been facing a decrease in trust over the past two years. Social media is facing the largest drop in trust. One out of four think social media are at least reasonably reliable, where 87% qualify Dutch media as at least reasonably reliable. Conventional media (public TV, public radio and paid newspapers) are considered most trustworthy by all generations. This is in striking contrast to commercial TV networks, which faced a 17% decrease in trust. One of the reasons is the dependency of TV networks and other commercial media on advertising income. Half of participants doubt the objectiveness of newspapers, magazines and commercial TV and radio networks because of the involvement of advertisers. To safeguard having access to objective news, the majority (65%) think that public TV and radio networks should remain public (rather than be abolished/privatised).

One reason for the lack of trust in social media is that there is no control mechanism to stop the spread of fake news. Conventional media can fill this gap. Three out of four state that editorial departments should spend more resources on performing accurate research and verifying information. This should be considered in the light of the pressure on consumer spend for journalism, i.e. demanding more verifications is one thing, willingness to pay for such verifications is another.

  Technoholics Digital natives Digital immigrants Baby boomers Digitally disengaged
Social media lack control mechanisms to prevent hate messages and fake news 59% 70% 76% 81% 64%
Newspapers, magazines and commercial TV and radio networks often do not report objectively on events because they do not want to scare off advertisers 41% 45% 49% 52% 41%
Public TV and radio networks should be privatised 20% 23% 20% 16% 6%
Editorial departments should hire more staff to perform accurate research and be able to verify whether reports are true 66% 77% 73% 78% 75%

90% hold others responsible for protecting data

Fake news is not the only reason why trust in Dutch media decreased over the past two years. Data misuse scandals also harmed trust. Social media hit the headlines more than once this year. Three out of four know about recent scandals related to social media. Of those, only 10% hold themselves responsible for protecting data from being misused. The rest generally hold social networks (33%) and legislators (26%) accountable.

Despite data scandals, most of us have failed to take extra care. Only half of respondents state that they have taken some type of action. Actions taken include checking and adjusting privacy and cookie settings, searching for information about data protection and deleting or uninstalling apps and programmes. Only 5% state that they have deleted their social media profile.

Just one in ten want to know what happens to data they pass on

We see considerable variances across generations in the willingness to share data. Half of participants do not mind if their data is passed on as long as it means free access to the website. However, this percentage is significantly higher under the Technoholics and Digitally disengaged generation.

Most of those who do not mind sharing data, believe that passing on data must be subject to certain conditions. Of those, 18% want at least highly sensitive personal data to be protected, 14% are happy for it to be passed on in return for a benefit (e.g. free offers or price/bonus points or personalised information) and 11% want to know exactly where the data goes. The Technoholic generation, in particular, are very relaxed about handling their own data: just 21% in this age group try to keep disclosure of their data to a minimum.

The willingness of people to pay for objective and reliable information varies. About 30% accept that their data is shared with third parties if a social network remains free of charge, another third are willing to pay a user fee for social networks if their data is not shared at all. About 21% of respondents would appreciate a financing model in which they can control how much data is shared. In this model, social media networks would have a financing model in which the user fee is based on the amount of data a user is willing to share – the more data a user is willing to share, the lower the user fee.

One conclusion that can be derived from our study is that restoring trust in media, and news in particular, is an increasingly important objective for all stakeholders in the media sector.

  Technoholics Digital naives Digital immigrants Baby boomers Digitally disengaged
I do not want my data to be shared 21% 40% 42% 55% 17%
I am willing to pay a user fee if no data is sold 37% 44% 34% 35% 6%
I am willing to pay a user fee that depends on the level of data that I allow to be sold 20% 23% 23% 18% 11%
  Technoholics Digital naives Digital immigrants Baby boomers Digitally disengaged
Birth year After 1995 1981-1995 1965-1980 1945-1964 Before 1945
Age Below 23 23-37 38-53 54-73 Above 73

Algorithms that run our news

by Mona de Boer

Do we know what we don’t know? And how can we be sure that what we know is true? Nowadays, these apparently philosophical questions are top of mind of media consumers. Algorithms play a key role in news distribution and consumption, as they increasingly determine who gets to see which news item and at what moment.

This is both a blessing and a weapon. On the one hand, algorithms, combined with an abundance of consumer data, enable unprecedented personalisation of news. Which news item was consumed and through which media channel? What was the average reading time? Was the article ‘liked’ and how often was the article revisited, shared, and commented on? What was the sentiment of these comments?

In a time in which the modern consumer is said to suffer from ‘information stress’ these algorithms make news more easily consumable and news channels more engaging. And if consumer preferences change over time, the algorithms are intelligent enough to go along with that change.

Yet, there is also a downside. With customisation of our news feeds we create our own selective perception of the world, or – worst – they are created for us without our consent. This phenomenon called ‘filter bubble’ is currently under heavy debate, because of its threats to ‘fair play’ within politics and economics.

Robo-journalism

But concerns about the quality, transparency and accountability of algorithms are not limited to news distribution and consumption. A recent development called Robo-journalism suggests that in the near future we will also develop a keen interest in the algorithms that produce our news. Robo-journalism refers to news generated by software based on large datasets. It is very likely that we have already unwittingly experienced its workings. In September 2017, the Washington Post reported that one year after having introduced its artificial intelligence ‘reporter’, Heliograf, it had produced some 850 articles covering the Rio Olympics and the US election. Other news giants, such as the New York Times, Reuters and BBC, also integrated artificial intelligence into their newsrooms.

Barack Obama

Human-created fake news was already on our list of concerns. With Robo-journalism we can add AI-created fake news to that list. AI has proven to be able to produce output that mimics human-created originals and have the power to convince humans the news output is the real thing. For example, in 2017 the American actor/comedian Jordan Peele created a video featuring an AI-Obama who bore a striking resemblance with the real Obama and who said whatever Peele wanted him to say. The video showed that AI has the ability to automate and optimise fake news and warned the public that such an ability could be catastrophic.

Fight harmful algorithms

With algorithms increasingly shaping the way we see the world, how can we trust news in the future? Society has not yet developed its ground rules. Current pioneers, like the Dutch digital news kiosk Blendle, have addressed the matter by voluntary public disclosure of their algorithms. A number of social media giants is using ‘good cop’ algorithms to fight harmful algorithms, for example to track fake news on social media channels and get it offline. Yet, with varying degrees of success. Recent accusations against media giants show that the boundary between tracking fake news and exercising censorship is under public scrutiny. In the long-term, mandatory independent validation of algorithms could become a standard for certain media types. In the meantime, the sector could consider to proactively arrange a voluntary validation of algorithms to help restore trust.

Contact us

Mieke Reintjes

Manager, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)88 792 48 25

Mona de Boer

Director, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)88 792 55 16

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