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South Africans less likely to trust government and media according to 2024 barometer

South Africans less likely to trust government and media according to 2024 barometer
Illustrative image | Sources: Flickr / GCIS | Adobe Stock | Unsplash / Grant Ritchie | Kisspng

In an age of corruption and misinformation, it is perhaps unsurprising that South Africans are more likely to trust their peers, online resources and businesses rather than the government or journalists, as per the Edelman Trust Barometer 2024.

The data reveals that South Africans are most inclined to trust their peers (78%) and scientists (68%) to provide truthful information about new innovations and technologies. They rely more on online searches (72%) and social media (69%) for information about new technologies and innovations than on national and local media.

Four big themes that have emerged in the Edelman Trust Barometer over the last 24 years are:

  1. 2005: People started wanting to hear more from their peers rather than from the authorities.
  2. 2016: The massive divide between the highest earners and the lowest earners started becoming more glaringly apparent.
  3. 2018: business emerged as the most trusted institution. In 2021, in a post-Covid world, business started playing a much bigger role in society.
  4. 2024: The theme Edelman has identified this year is “innovation in peril” as society confronts innovation increasingly through the use of AI, and technology-led change.

The Edelman SA Trust Barometer shows that 61% of South Africans believe partnerships between business and government can lead to more trustworthy management of technology-led changes, which ultimately will propel progress and growth for the country.

Since 2015, this perception has seen a substantial year-on-year uptick, increasing 26 percentage points in the period — among the highest increase across all 28 countries surveyed. This growing demand for collaboration could be linked to waning trust related to innovations, as the majority of South Africans do not trust individual institutional leaders to tell the truth.

When it comes to those who are likely to “purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations”, 82% voted for the government, 70% for business leaders, and 69% for journalists and reporters.

Karena Crerar, chief executive for Edelman Africa, points out that trust in industry sectors does not automatically translate to trust in their innovations. For example, while trust in South Africa’s energy sector is relatively low at 58%, trust in green energy innovations is considerably higher at 73%. This disparity may stem from South Africa’s ongoing energy challenges.

Similarly, despite a 76% trust level in the technology sector, South Africans are divided on the adoption of Artificial Intelligence, with equal percentages (33%) embracing and rejecting it.

This is starkly evident in South Africa’s education sector, where AI holds the potential to revolutionise learning by making education more accessible and transforming the academic landscape. Already the University of Pretoria, the University of Cape Town, the University of Stellenbosch, the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of Johannesburg, North-West University, and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University offer programmes that cover topics such as machine learning, deep learning, and natural language processing. However, there is much scope to roll this out further and use AI to address inefficiencies at primary and secondary school levels.

South Africans have now handed the mantle to business to implement such scientific innovation, with 65% of respondents agreeing that corporations are the most trusted entities to integrate innovation into society. However, for businesses and other institutions to gain greater trust in managing innovation, South Africans are calling for inclusivity. A staggering 89% mandate business, government, and media to “hear our concerns and let us ask questions”, with 68% expecting chief executives to actively address broader societal shifts, not just internal business changes.

Other key findings from the 2024 Edelman SA Trust Barometer include:

  • There has been a significant increase of 8 percentage points year-on-year of South Africans (66%) who are worried about an information war. They mostly fear the possibility of foreign attacks on local media to inflame differences.
  • South Africans have little trust in innovations such as gene-based medicine (40%) and genetically modified foods (28%). They are more inclined to reject these innovations than embrace them.
  • 63% of South Africans believe government regulators lack adequate understanding of emerging technologies to regulate them effectively. This is above the 59% global average.
  • South Africans are most likely (42%) to believe that innovation is poorly managed as compared to their African counterparts in Nigeria (24%) and Kenya (30%), for example.

“What we are seeing could be referred to as a global referendum on innovation in society where there is progress and emerging technologies, but at the same time, pushback from people. Covid vaccines were a great example of this. They saved millions of lives, but there was also a backlash from segments of society that were reluctant to believe in the science behind these vaccines,” Crerar says.

When it comes to trust in the media, one factor that is increasingly playing a role is broad access to information where people prefer to do their own research. Crerar says respondents indicated that they get most of their information about new technologies and innovations from online searches ahead of social media or other media.

“Interesting to note is that social media is the second most used for research but the least trusted. So, it really creates a quandary for people who are going onto social media looking for answers, but not necessarily trusting what they’re seeing either,” she says. DM

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