Digital Trust

Michael Wolf, writing in USA Today a few years ago, said that trust could be the next big thing. The theory goes that trust used to be what most individuals and institutions were selling. Trust was built up, consistently, over many years and once acquired, you had the ultimate scalable asset on your hands. Brands, in particular, traded upon this inteangible asset.

Nowadays most major brands have the opposite problem and so do many of our institutions. Nobody trusts them any longer. This is true of the entire financial services industry, all but a handful of politicians, most journalists, the police, the church, a number of scientists and just about any global multinational you care to mention. This lack of trust also applies to the global branding industry, which tries its best to create the illusion of trust for others, but most people don’t trust them either.

In theory, the internet should be able to solve this problem. Millions of online voices rate their satisfaction with just about everything that matters. But, as we saw with Amazon a while back, user reviews can be untrustworthy too. Many are written anonymously, sometimes by someone related to someone trying to sell something, and even when not there’s a tendency to write negative comments more than positive ones. Fake News and the recent Facebook debarkle haven’t helped much either.

So what’s to be done? On one hand it’s a serious crisis of confidence in both capitalism and democracy. On the other hand, perhaps we are missing the power of feedback loops and cycles. If and when something tips too far in one direction, this creates an opportunity for someone, or something, to move off in the other direction.

Perhaps someone will eventually devise a way of getting everyone on the planet to rate everything – a global reputation index if you like. If someone refuses to take part this will indicate they have something serious to hide. But surely this is a new form of sanctimonious conformity? No. What we need here is not more information, but less. Information is the problem, not the solution. There is too much of it to analyse properly and we no longer trust anyone to filter or analyse anything for us.

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