x

Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

In a sea of distrust, the UAE is an island bucking the global trend

Young people are sceptical and their trust must be earned, whether you are in business or government

Six in 10 of those questioned in Edelman's survey said they couldn't distinguish between real and fake news. Elijah Nouvelage / Reuters
Six in 10 of those questioned in Edelman's survey said they couldn't distinguish between real and fake news. Elijah Nouvelage / Reuters

We are living through a tumultuous period of history. Fake news, the proliferation of social and digital channels and the hollowing out of traditional media are just some of the currents that are shaping contemporary society.

Some have characterised this as a “battle for truth”, in which we no longer share common facts and are unable to engage in rational debate. The Edelman Trust Barometer shows that the media is now the least-trusted institution in global governance for the first time, particularly in western democracies.

The media is sometimes seen as politicised, elitist and biased. As a result, fewer people around the world opt not to engage with any mainstream media at all in any given week.

Yet there is an even bigger gap developing between social media and mainstream platforms. Fake news and interference from foreign actors in social media have prompted a collapse of trust, leaving social platforms 40 points below mainstream media on the barometer.

Six in 10 of those surveyed by Edelman said that they could not distinguish between real and fake news, and seven in 10 were worried about fake news being used as a weapon.

So how can young people who have grown up with this as the norm find a path forward, when such question marks hang over the idea of truth?

Around the world there is increasing recognition that the established elites and institutions that came to dominate the post-war era must listen and engage with young people more effectively. Bodies such as the UN’s youth delegates programme and organisations such as the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders initiative have set the stage to give young people a more meaningful voice.

Here in the UAE, government has led the way. When Shamma Al Mazrui was appointed Minister of State for Youth Affairs in 2016, at the age of 22, she was not only the youngest member of the UAE cabinet but the youngest government minister in the world.

Setting up various platforms for engagement, such as the Emirates Youth Council, the UAE seems to be listening to young people better than other countries. Its Youth Index is specially designed to develop smarter policies and investment, with the aim of improving opportunities for youth.

The appointment of Omar Al Olama as the world’s first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence also underscores role technology in the lives and careers of young people.

This is perhaps a big reason why our data shows that 18 to 24-year-olds in the UAE place their trust in government at 73 per cent.

In a sea of distrust, the UAE stands among a few islands that buck the trend. However, trust is fragile and has to be earned. Maintaining it takes work. Our data shows that young people place high levels of trust in their government, but that they are still more sceptical than their elders.

In a nation that has made such progress in developing and diversifying the economy, educating the population and creating a progressive, internationally minded society, ensuring that trust is maintained is vital.

In light of this, there are four key considerations that we must all think through, whether we are in business or in government.

Our research shows that globally, people are persuaded by products and brands with a clear purpose. That same logic applies to a national brand: lead with your purpose, your vision and your mission.

It is also vital that nations focus on youth, but do so on their terms and through young people themselves. As leaders, we must engage with their hopes and aspirations. Edelman’s research shows that traditional authority figures are falling out of fashion and that peers are becoming increasingly trusted. We must therefore work through and with young people to shape change.

Economic opportunity is of pivotal importance to young people across the globe. The UAE is no exception. According to our research, business is the next most trusted structure in the nation after the government. Employees trust their employers even more than they trust business on an institutional level, with a score of 76 per cent and 68 per cent, respectively. This makes individual employers a key partner in building trust.

Finally, nations must reach out to people directly. Leaders across the world are demonstrating that people prefer to get their information straight from the source. Here, in the UAE, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, has demonstrated via Twitter that this approach works and sets the agenda.

If we can build on the values and vision of the UAE, young people will have a bright future, designed and developed by them, for them. After all, they are the future and we must put our trust in them too.

Omar Qirem is the chief executive of Edelman Middle East