KUALA LUMPUR, May 26 – Job loss, climate change, hackers, and cyber-attacks emerged as the biggest societal fears among Malaysians, according to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, an international survey by global communications firm Edelman.
This year, the survey showed an 11-point increase in fear of experiencing racial prejudice (76 per cent) and a nine-point rise in respondents’ fear of losing their freedom as a citizen to 80 per cent. These were seen as very high levels of societal fears.
The study which was conducted among 1,150 participants in Malaysia from October to November last year, showed that 94 per cent of respondents worried about job loss, while 81 per cent worried about climate change, and hackers and cyber attacks in 2022.
Fears of job loss and climate change saw an increase of five points compared to 2021, whereas fears of hackers and cyber attacks increased by four points this year.
“We see a slight increase in Malaysia’s unemployment rate in 2021 from 4.5 per cent to 4.6 per cent,” Edelman Malaysia group director Christopher Ross de Cruz told a virtual briefing session yesterday at the Malaysian launch of the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer.
“Keeping in mind that the survey was done between mid-October and mid-November of 2021, we expect fears of climate change to only increase as Malaysians experience a series of flash floods towards the end of the year continuing into 2022.
“In the midst of an accelerating cycle of distrust, a failure of leadership has made distrust the default.”
Businesses And NGOs Most Trusted
Businesses and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) emerged as the two most trusted institutions in Malaysia in 2022.
Trust in business saw a two-point increase to 71 per cent, while NGOs gained an increase of one point to 70 per cent in 2022.
“Both businesses and NGOs are seen as institutions that stepped up to support Malaysians amid health and climate emergencies in 2021,” de Cruz said.
“From donations to vital Covid-19 prevention equipment to the coordination with NGOs to support the nation’s vaccination program, both institutions played a significant role in Malaysia’s pandemic response.”
The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer also reflected that Malaysians relied on business to get results in executing plans and strategies, while NGOs were expected to take a leadership role in coordinating cross institutional efforts for societal problems, de Cruz pointed out.
This was clearly seen during the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme rollout, when different institutions worked together to accelerate the vaccine coverage nationwide, de Cruz said.
“NGOs and businesses are left under disproportionate pressure to take on societal responsibilities beyond what should be their limit and beyond maybe even the ability.”
Malaysians Trust Employers Above Government, Media, Businesses, NGOs
Although trust towards employers in Malaysia dipped four points this year, 79 per cent of respondents trust them, compared to businesses (71 per cent), NGOs (70 per cent), the government (62 per cent), and the media (60 per cent).
According to de Crux, the four-point decrease could be attributed to a few high-profile export bans from Malaysian companies, with reports of findings that such products were made used using force and indentured labour.
“Amidst a lot of turmoil and instability, employers have become seen as a source of trust and stability, and this puts my employer as the most trusted institution in Malaysia even higher than business.”
CEOs Expected To Speak Out On Issues, Including Health Care
According to the Edelman survey, about six in ten employees expected their company chief executive officers (CEOs) to speak publicly about controversial issues that they care about. That expectation increased by five points this year.
Some 78 per cent of Malaysians hoped for their CEOs to visibly discuss public policy with external stakeholders, or what their company has contributed to the society.
“The expectation for business to play a broader societal role is putting pressure on CEOs to personally the change and be visible,” de Cruz said.
“CEOs are expected to help inform and shape conversation and policy debates on a range of issues.”
More than 70 per cent of respondents believed that CEOs should inform and shape conversations around subjects, specifically related to jobs or the economy, wage inequality, and technology and automation.
Over 60 per cent also wanted CEOs to weigh in on societal challenges, such as increasing the Covid-19 vaccination rate, the impact of immigration on jobs, prejudice and discrimination, global warming and climate change, and improving the education and health care systems in Malaysia.
Fewer Malaysians supported their CEO engaging in politics, with just 52 per cent expecting their CEO to inform policy debates on who the next leader of the country should be.
“This demonstrates just how influential the voices of business leaders are today, and how they are expected to inform and shape conversations about societal issues, including jobs, wage inequality and technology,” de Cruz said.
“It is clear from our research that trust is afforded to businesses and NGOs because of their independence from political agendas. But once that line is crossed, a decline in trust would be imminent.”
More Business Engagement Wanted On Societal Issues
Most Malaysians agreed that businesses are currently not doing enough, with about a third or more of respondents demanding more involvement across all societal issues, including economic inequality, systemic injustice, climate change, workforce rescaling, access to trustworthy information, and access to good and affordable health care.
“Amidst the collapse in trust and much of the world business were asked to take on a growing responsibility for addressing societal problems. In fact, societal leadership has become a core business function,” de Cruz said.
“An organisation today represents so much more than just being providers of goods and services. They have evolved over time and are now in a position of responsibility to reflect the values of not just people within the organisation, but the communities that they operate in.”
In order to break the cycle of distrust, de Cruz mentioned that businesses are not merely profit-driven organisations, as Malaysians wanted more leadership from businesses and not less.
“You must accept the responsibility of filling the void left by the government. With trust being placed in them as the effective drivers of change, there is an expectation being built as time goes on for businesses to do more for society.”
Fake News Is A Serious Concern
Malaysia ranked as the second most concerned about fake news alongside Indonesia, recording a seven-point increase from 2021 to 83 per cent and behind Spain (84 per cent).
Trust in various news sources, including search engines, traditional media, owned media, and social media increased slightly from last year.
Search engines and traditional media increased the most, showcasing increasing maturity among Malaysians, in processing good information.
“One example of a persistent problem is that of fake news on social media, which has remained a serious concern for a decade now with no clear solution in sight
“Fake news across media platforms surrounding Covid-19 and more continue to haunt Malaysians, increasing our fears of fake news being used as a weapon against us,” de Cruz said.
Good Information Can Overcome Trust Gap Between Rich And Poor
The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer showed a high trust gap of 13 points between respondents with high and low incomes.
Wealthier Malaysians generally trusted NGOs, businesses, the government, and the media at 70 per cent, compared to poorer Malaysians who were neutral about their trust in the country’s institutions at 57 per cent.
High-income respondents, or the top 25 per cent of income earners, saw a significant trust gain over the last 10 years from 2012, but saw a drop of five points this year.
However, low-income respondents, or those in the bottom 25th percentile, continued to demonstrate a lag in trust, with no significant increases in the last 10 years, where this group of people remained in the neutral region most of the time.
“This income-based trust divide is a global phenomenon prevalent across the geographic, political and economic divides,” de Cruz said.
The Edelman survey portrayed the importance of quality, reliable and trustworthy information in restoring trust among people.
Edelman’s analysis showed that being well informed is a powerful driver that has the ability to overcome the income base trust levels. In 2022, the average trust level in Malaysia rose from 47 per cent to 57 per cent among the low income respondents who were well informed.
In contrast, trust levels among high-income respondents who were not well informed saw a decline from 62 per cent to 55 per cent in 2022, lower than well-informed low income earners.
Edelman defined the well-informed group as those who not only regularly consume news, but also those who are able to fact check what they read against multiple sources, at least three news sources daily. Well-informed here also included those who read business or public policy news and seek quality information.
“In many ways information could be a more powerful indicator of trust levels than income,” said de Cruz.
Providing quality information turned out to be the key indicator that would help build trust in all institutions, namely the government, businesses, NGOs and media.
This shows a need for every institution to provide trustworthy information to build trust among Malaysian citizens and break the cycle of distrust.
“With fake news being such a concern for Malaysians, it’s imperative that every institution diligently ensures that the information being relayed to the target audiences is of a high quality and is fact checked to ensure accuracy,” de Cruz said.
Nearly six in ten respondents said that their default tendency was to distrust something until they see evidence that it is trustworthy.
Another 64 per cent people were seen incapable of having constructive and civil debates about issues they disagree on, an essential skill of a well functioning society, especially in the democratic societies.
“When distrust is the default, we lack the ability to debate or collaborate. For countries with political systems that would like to depend on civil and constructive debates, this is a huge warning sign,” de Cruz said.