We don’t trust what we see online, especially influencers, according to UM’s Wave X global research study

New research has found that the vast majority of internet users lack any confidence in what they see and read online. Only 8% of them globally think that three-quarters or more of the information they get from social media is true – dropping to 4% when it comes to information from supposedly trusted influencers like celebrities and bloggers/vloggers.

By comparison, even governments are seen as more trustworthy than most influencers – 12% think governments are mostly truthful, although falling to 8% and 6% in the UK and US respectively.

The findings are from Wave X – Remix Culture, the tenth global social media tracker carried out by media agency UM. Surveying more than 56,000 active internet users across 81 countries, it found that in an age of increasing uncertainty many people worldwide simply don’t trust what they see online, particularly on social media:

More than half of UK internet users (54%) believe most of the news they see online is fake. A similar 46% of all users worldwide agree Less than half (44% in the UK, 47% globally) now say they’re influenced by opinions shared online, compared to 46% (globally 54%) in 2017 Around half (47% both globally and in the UK) say they have less faith in experts and institutions than they used to Less than half trust bloggers/vloggers’ opinions on products and services (only 36% in the UK, 42% globally).

Liz Haas, Head of Client Insight EMEA at UM, says: “The research highlights how headlines over the past two years have made people more aware of issues surrounding credibility and transparency on the internet. This is particularly the case with social media – scandals like Cambridge Analytica have had a huge impact on the extent to which people question what they see and hear online.

“Legislation like the EU’s GDPR is working towards rebuilding that trust, particularly regarding what is done with our personal data, but brands will also have a key role to play over the coming years. It’s clear that trust is fast becoming the currency of the new internet, and brands able to demonstrate that they’re transparent and responsible in the moments that matter are going to be best placed to succeed.”

Falling out of love with online social spaces

The study also paints a picture of changing attitudes towards our digital lives, with people starting to feel less tied to social media. The percentage of respondents globally who ‘worry about missing out if they don’t visit their social networks’ dropped by 4% from the Wave 9 study in 2017, from 50% to 46% – and from 41% to 39% in the UK.

And when asked which platforms people worldwide would describe as a ‘great place for someone like me’, the non-interactive sites Netflix and YouTube came first and second (with 28% and 27% agreeing, respectively), with Spotify third on 27%. The ‘traditional’ interactive social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat all ranked outside the top five.

Where social networks still have a role are as an enabler of communities and in fostering a sense of belonging. More than half of internet users (51% in the UK, 60% globally) consider those networks to be ‘an integral part of their social life’. The number of people who say that online social platforms as a whole help them to feel that they belong is up by 5% globally and by 4% in the UK compared to the Wave 5 survey in 2010.

Liz Haas comments: “In an era in which the divisions between people are bought into sharp focus by events like Brexit, it’s clear consumers believe that social media has an important role to play in enabling them to feel a sense of community. This is often shaped by moments, which may be defined by how we come together in response to broader socio-political and economic events, or by the shared dates and cultural rituals within more tightly defined groups or subcultures.

“Either way, the social networks still have a vital role to play in how each of us shape our identities. Brands can tap in to this but have to think carefully about how they use social platforms to engage people at the specific moments that matter to them without being invasive.”

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