REFLECTIONS

Trust or complacency?

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A global perspective: News media trust or complacency? An alarming need for more skepticism and critical thought among the Canadian readership

By Daniel C. Park

Reducing uncertainty has been the prevailing theme of my work at Starling Lab, and the series of tumultuous moments in 2020 have been a powerful reminder for me of the urgency and importance of establishing trust in the information we consume. Indeed, loss of faith in journalism and public institutions is not just exclusive to Americans or Canadians, but it is a globally-encompassing issue, including its associated toll on democracy. A 2020 Gallup poll on Americans’ trust in mass media indeed suggests half as having “not very much” trust or “none at all,” a record high since the polling was first conducted in 1972. 

 

Comparably, trust in the press across Canada also fell by four percent in a 2018 Ipsos poll, but 65 percent of respondents remained faithful in Canadian mainstream media; and the anxiety over Covid-19 had in fact ignited greater confidence among Canadians in institutions, attributing to nonpartisanship and government competency in responding to the pandemic. 

 

This was not surprising, but is this trust or complacency? As a Canadian, observing the mainstreaming of misinformation on Fox News and other U.S. news outlets alike had at first instilled a pride that Canadian sources are more trustworthy. Not perfect, but fair and less obtuse. Misinformation in Canada, however, is creeping into the country’s informational landscape. Twitter accounts in Canada are among the most active in spreading fake and misleading pro-Russian articles from “proxy” websites and Statistics Canada is reporting that nine out of ten Canadians have come across Covid-19 misinformation at the onset of the pandemic. 

 

2019 McGill study also suggests that, while Canadians’ trust of news sources are not divided along partisan lines, a heavy news diet can leave Canadians less informed with facts, not more. Alarmingly, Canadians’ trust in Canadian sources is not being accompanied by enough skepticism and critical thought, and the media complacency present among the Canadian readership can seriously impair their ability to discern the veracity of information they consume. 

 

In this respect, how will Starling operate and market the importance of its authentication technology in an environment rich with complacency, and realize its goal of reducing uncertainty in Canada’s informational landscape? Against the backdrop of growing misinformation campaigns targeting Canadians, there is a sense of urgency to proactively mainstream the practice of evaluating the authenticity of the images and videos we see. Towards this objective, it is vital for Starling to partner with Canadian papers and media companies, including The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, to create higher standards of content authenticity and comply with Adobe’s CAI standards; and comprehensive guides tailored to the Canadian readership on increasing their media literacy with Canadian examples. Reducing uncertainty that besets today’s mass media is a vital component in fostering and upholding our democractic institutions across democracies in the world. Because of this, it is critical for Starling Lab to be conscious and familiar with subtle differences in different countries’ media attitudes to procure a more tailored and effective means of establishing a higher standard for information we produce and consume globally.

Daniel C. Park – Daniel is a graduate student at The University of British Columbia’s Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs program, specializing in the intersection between policy and decentralized trust technologies.