Edelman Trust Barometer 2024 - Australians are a sceptical lot

By AdNews | 26 March 2024
Credit: Anna Samoylova via Unsplash

Australians harbour a scepticism of key institutions to manage innovation, which is threatening acceptance and adoption of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, according to the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer.

They fear being mislead by the government, business leaders and journalists.

And they worry about  inflation, hackers, nuclear war, climate change and an information war.

The research, Innovation in Peril, focuses on trust in innovation at a time of rapid transformation and against a backdrop of ongoing economic and geopolitical instability.  

Australia remains a sceptical market in terms of the Trust Index. No single institution has succeeded in reaching trusted territory in Australia for another consecutive year.

The underlying theme of this year’s barometer is innovation’s potential to further polarise society if not well managed and communicated.

Australians are the second most likely, behind the US, to say innovation is poorly managed.

Those with this mindset are highly likely to believe that society is changing too quickly and is happening in ways that will not benefit "people like me" (73%).

A window of opportunity to restore faith in innovation exists in Australia, but it is a narrow one.

Edelman says leaders must move quickly to shape public sentiment on emerging technologies if they are to prevent the country’s confidence further diminishing due to concerns about the pace and impact of technological change.

“Currently, many Australians feel that innovation is being mismanaged and tech is leaving them behind, which is in turn exacerbating divisions already prevalent in our society,” said Tom Robinson, CEO Australia, Edelman.

“This year’s Trust Barometer has shown that, to build trust in our institutions and their leaders in Australia, we need to work together in partnership, and be open to new, transparent models of communication.

"Australians want a forum to raise their concerns. They want information about new technologies and innovations which is balanced, and which addresses those concerns in a real way.”

Some of the results:

edelman trust barometer 2024Australians see Australians worry government, business leaders and journalists are trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.

Government and the media as unethical institutions, but less so than other western, global markets. Government and media are more trusted in most of APAC than here in Australia, where we see government as 39 points less competent than business, setting us apart from our regional counterparts in this respect.

The battle for truth also continues, with 59% of Australians worrying government, business leaders and journalists are purposely trying to mislead by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.

Australia is aligned with global markets in trusting scientists (71%) and our peers (73%) to tell the truth about innovations and technologies more than CEOs, NGO representatives, government leaders or journalists.

Of the four institutions, only business is not distrusted to integrate innovation into society (53%).

This year, it is not just cost of living worrying Australians, with societal fears on par with economic concerns. Seventy percent of Australians worry about inflation, while 78% worry about hackers, 66% about nuclear war, 63% about climate change and 56% about an information war.

“Australia remains an outlier in the Asia Pacific region in terms of entrenched scepticism and an ongoing dispersion of authority," said Robinson.

"Personal economic fears remain amidst the cost of living crisis but we’re witnessing a shift in societal fears. No longer are they dominated by energy and food shortages but instead by the increasing threat of hackers and, by extension, cyber security.

"Business, rather than government, carries the greatest burden of responsibility based on the levels of trust we hold. We found that many Australians believe government regulators lack adequate understanding of emerging technologies to effectively regulate them."

Politicisation of Innovation We are seeing clear concern globally that innovation is being poorly managed. Australians are even more likely than the global cohort to believe innovation is being mismanaged – and this concern is shared across income, gender and age.

The data highlights a clear relationship between how innovation is managed and the likelihood of acceptance and adoption. In Australia, AI and gene-based medicine are at a crossroads with more Australians rejecting the growing use of these innovations, than embracing them (53% against versus 15% for AI, and 35% against vs 20% for gene-based medicine).

Green energy has more support, with 44% embracing it - although Australia is once again less positive than our APAC
neighbours about this technology.

Australia and China are equally sceptical of government competence in understanding emerging technology enough to regulate it, tied for fifth most cynical countries (64%) and trailing only Thailand, the UK, India and Italy in this data set, with most other participating markets not far behind.

Australia is also second in the global cohort in terms of the greatest difference in rejection of innovation between those whose political leanings are right vs. left, with far greater rejection on the right (37% across the four innovations), than on the left (14%).

Only the US has a greater difference (53% rejection among the right versus 12% among the left).
In terms of who Australians believe should have a big role in the implementation of innovation, it is technical experts (69%) and scientists (67%) that we look to – and this is also true of most other markets in the wider APAC region.

Globally, there is a consensus that when people are confident that innovation has been vetted by scientists and ethicists, there is much more acceptance of each innovation than when they lack that confidence.

That said, innovation must be explained in plain language and in an accessible and transparent manner, with 47% of Australian respondents saying scientists do not know how to communicate to “people like me”, again reflecting the important role of communicators.

Perhaps in a direct reflection of their distrust of business leaders, government leaders and social media, online searches are the second most relied on source (43%) by Australians to find information about new technology and innovations – only national media ranked higher (51%).

Across institutions, transparency builds trust. Australians say, for institutions to earn their trust as good managers of change, they must give people a voice and be transparent about both the risks and benefits. 81% of Australians say it’s important for businesses to communicate both the positives and the negatives in order to earn and keep their trust as good stewards of change.

This year’s report reveals a new paradox at the heart of society. On one hand, rapid innovation offers the promise of a new era of economic prosperity, on the other, it risks exacerbating trust issues, leading to further societal instability.

“Australians have strong opinions as to how trust in innovation could be restored and there are clear lessons business leaders can draw from this report," Robinson said.

There has been a 19-point increase since 2015 in the number of Australian respondents (55%) who said they would trust business more with technology-led changes if it partnered with government, and 52% of Australian respondents expect
CEOs to manage changes occurring in society, not just those occurring in their business.

This presents a mandate for CEOs to speak publicly about key topics at the heart of emerging technology, such as job skills of the future, automation’s impact on jobs and the ethical use of technology.

"We need our institutions to build confidence in how emerging technology will lead to a better future and unlock opportunities for growth and development across society," Robinson said.

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