It’s old news by now: Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to access and collect data of 50—no, wait, 87!—million users. As the story unfolded, we learned that this data played a role in political campaigning across the globe. We also learned that people decreased—no, wait, increased!—their Facebook usage because of the scandal.
While it’s unclear exactly how users changed their habits, we do know two things:
- Trust in Facebook has dropped dramatically, with 72% of users distrusting Facebook. (In 2017, before the scandal broke, that number was 19%.)
- Facebook lost $120 billion in value, after reporting slow growth and weak revenue. This is the largest drop in value in history.
The trust-distrust spectrum
So what does this have to do with higher education?
Well, our industry is grappling with similar shifts along the trust-distrust spectrum. Trust in experts is low. Three quarters of Americans believe higher education isn’t “functioning fine the way it is,” and only 14% of Americans have a “great deal” of confidence in higher education.
It’s a worrying shift. But what’s interesting (and possibly, strangely, surprisingly uplifting): Figures like these change quickly, and higher education isn’t the only industry grappling with them.
More than ten years ago, the Edelman Trust Barometer reported that trust in peers was at an all-time high. It was easy to understand why: People who spoke like you, had similar interests, and voiced your same concerns were likely to share your values as well. At the same time, Edelman noted that once-credible journalism was struggling: “We are dividing into silos, seeking deeper knowledge in specific sectors, but showing less interest in accountable news that serves the public interest.”
This year, Edelman is reporting that news reporting institutions are recovering. Trust in journalists has risen 12 points, while trust in “peer communication” (social media) is declining.
Trust & technology
There’s no doubt that technology is at the heart and center of these upheavals. With information so readily accessible and available, we hear too many conflicting ideas, reports, and accounts. It’s difficult to make quick judgment calls about who’s credible and who isn’t.
So how does an institution recover? How does it signal its credibility and trustworthiness? Facebook is certainly trying to do so. Last year, they dumped their “trending” feature and implemented a “fake news red flag” to show when an article wasn’t up to its standards. But this didn’t work exactly as planned:
Research showed that “putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs—the opposite effect to what we intended.”
Tessa Lyons, Facebook Product Manager
So they dropped this feature.
Earlier this year, they rolled it out again. Only this time, the user gets to decide whether or not the article in question is fake news. Facebook simply supplies the context, letting the reader know more about the publisher, topic, and sharer.
Facebook isn’t the only platform experimenting with trustworthy features. In my edUi talk, I’ll share more examples of these features, including some in Indiana University’s own internal systems. I’d love for you to stop by!
About the Author
Madeline received her MLS and MIS from Indiana University. Before she became a UX architect, she worked as an information architect, archivist, librarian, editor, art cataloguer, English teacher, and farmer.
Madeline will present the talk Distrust in the Time of Facebook at edUi 2018.