In the News: The Power of Trust

In a recent article on Select/All, Jesse Singal reported on a recent study by the American Press Institute about how people decide what to trust on social media.

What they found was that for the most part, people “ignore the source of a given claim, focusing way more on the trustworthiness of the person sharing it.” Specifically, “people who see an article from a trusted sharer, but one written by an unknown media source, have much more trust in the information than people who see the same article from a reputable media source shared by a person they do not trust.” (For example, how much you trust what I’m saying right now depends more on how much you trust me, Nick Enge, than it does on how much you trust Jesse Singal or the API.)

Although this research was conducted in the context of social media, it has important implications for speaking as well. First, in case it wasn’t already obvious, getting your audience to trust you matters—a lot. In the study, when the sharer was someone the viewer trusted, the viewer not only perceived the shared article to be more accurate and well-reported, but also less biased, more entertaining, better organized, and more “share-worthy.” Furthermore, how much the audience trusts you is more important than how much they trust your sources. This means that although you can bolster your expertise by citing trustworthy experts, you can’t rely entirely on this technique—the audience needs to trust you as well. Of course, the best thing you can do is make sure that your audience trusts everything along the chain of evidence—from you, to your sources, to your sources’ sources. But as this study shows, while all of the these things matter, what matters most is that the audience trusts you.

Leave a Reply