Trust and loyalty are critical for creating a positive corporate reputation. However, according to a recent national poll some high-profile social media companies need lots of work to turn around negative public opinion.
A survey of 33,096 Americans in The Axios Harris Poll 100 indicates that Americans are unimpressed with the major drivers of news and entertainment. The poll ranked the reputations of America’s most visible companies based on characteristics such as trust, ethics, and product quality, with Facebook and Twitter bringing up the rear with rankings of 97 and 98 out of 100 cross-sector companies.
Other tech giants received similarly low marks. TikTok holds a lowly ranking of 94 amid criticism of its questionable data collection practices and ties to China.
The findings show that Americans’ declining trust in institutions also translates to the digital world. Of the seven dimensions measured, the “trust” score of Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok accounted for each company’s worst metric.
Public distrust of social media giants isn’t surprising. Public criticisms of their operations are as routine as a morning cup of coffee and come from across the political spectrum.
Conservatives are quick to label tech company policies designed to correct misinformation as censorship, while left-leaning observers tend to join privacy advocates in criticizing data collection.
Liberals are likewise vocal about social media after Twitter found that their algorithms tend to amplify right-leaning political content at a higher rate than left-leaning subjects.
In a second poll conducted by Morning Consult, nearly half of all Americans believed that social media has hurt society. In a digital age dominated by social media platforms’ entertainment and news value, many are becoming more stigmatized even as usage remains heavy.
There are multiple reasons why.
Parents are on the bandwagon of big tech critics, especially after a former Facebook employee shared internal research acknowledging the negative implications of Instagram on the mental health of teenage girls.
Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has also admitted that content filtering is problematic, stating that the platform’s blocking of stories prior to the 2020 election was a mistake.
Tech companies’ data collection practices are also of great concern to Americans. Facebook has forked over billions in fines for improperly accessing and selling user data, while Twitter was recently slapped with a $150 million Federal Trade Commission judgment for privacy and data security violations.
The trust problem is nothing new, particularly for Twitter. When considering last year’s version of the Axios Harris Poll 100, Twitter declined more than other companies.
When looking at ways Facebook and Twitter can solve their distrust problem, it’s clear that transparency is key.
Social media giants must prioritize building trust in their products, or risk becoming a pariah. For example, if company research finds that young girls are disproportionally affected by Facebook and Instagram, don’t wait for a whistleblower to reveal the data. Proactively presenting findings to the public alongside a solution would build credibility and trust.
In addition, speech with which a company disagrees with should not be removed simply because the viewpoint doesn’t reflect prevailing opinion. Openness is a hallmark principle of transparency, so if content isn’t threatening or abusive, it should remain in the virtual world and not subject to strict content moderation.
Further, in an age defined by individuals’ digital footprints, users should have clear knowledge of what personal data is being collected. Tech platforms should work in good faith with policymakers to limit excess data collection and ensure user privacy. Companies should also be proactive and reassuring regarding privacy – and not wait to speak until they are hauled in front of a congressional committee.
Apple has provided a positive roadmap for ensuring user consent to data collection. A 2021 software update requires companies to ask permission prior to collecting individual data, ensuring users have a clear opt-out option.
As new technologies arise, transparent communications will be critical to improving the reputations of tech companies.