I suppose "trust" is a term that almost as much as "love" means different things to different people. Nowhere is there greater evidence of this than in the Edelman findings. Edelman believes that the significant increase in trust for U.S. businesses, outside the financial sector, has to do with increased transparency, a willingness to partner with other organizations and governments, and a sense of social responsibility. Further, the study shows that for all their perceived isolation from open access to social networks, Chinese influencers have similar expectations of transparency and value it as much as a trust factor. So what are the Chinese trying to tell us? That while they trust globally diverse and historically authoritative information in business, they don't care about learning about what time we drink coffee in the morning? Or that not only do they doubt the value of our information, they also doubt its validity. We're all running around making dull observations on twitter and facebook about our current statuses, but when was the last time you read a tweet about someone's depression, bad mood, extra-marital affair or digestive issues? How authentic are we really, after all?Moreover, what relationship does trust have to trust-worthiness? This may seem like a stupid question, but I think it can be persuasively argued that there have been times in our history when women or people with different facial characteristics were not trusted, although they may have been perfectly trust-worthy. Today, as we decry that the Chinese have banned facebook and twitter, are we assuming that the Chinese are not to be trusted? Interestingly, the Edelman study showed that the traditional sources of business media and financial analysts still trump networks of peers when it comes to trust in business. So while blocking facebook and twitter in China may impede consumer marketing there (or just force marketers to use Chinese-based networks) it does not mean that the Chinese business influencers are outside the global conversation. And it would also seem to imply that from a business standpoint, at least, China is every bit as concerned with access to trusted information.
Maybe they're just trying t reduce the signal-to-noise, and who can blame them. But perhaps also we're seeing the early signs of a two-tiered system when it comes to social media. On the plus side, I wonder if social media might be creating something similar to the kind of cultural unity that Francis Fukuyama described in his 1995 book, Trust: Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity. Fukuyama argued for the economic value of communal values developed over generations, but perhaps we are creating broader networks in which all the nations with free access to broadband and social networks will, in fairly short order, move us consensually toward a crowd-sourced sense of values and sharing of information not dissimilar to what happened in Japan and Germany in the last century. Writing in Foreign Affairs in 2005, Fukuyama worried about the U.S. and the West isolating China, but isn't the greater threat that China will barricade us? Will a two-tiered system of shared values eventually break down? Or will we end up like the global group of anthropologists in Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient whose own trust of each other broke down in the face of overwhelming mass dis-trust?