How Trust Is Modified by Media

From “Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust” by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

Imagine that the radio had been invented yesterday. Suddenly, you and everyone you know hears about this machine, and one day, you actually see one at a local breakfast place. Picture it: For the first time, you are hearing music coming out of a machine instead of being played live right before you. Or perhaps, if you couldn’t afford to see a band play live, you were able to hear music for the first time. What now?

At this moment, something incredible is happening. If you are open to new ideas, you may simply think about how amazing this is. Now imagine that, following this song (we imagine a really jazzy Benny Goodman number) you hear a news broadcast.

Think about it. What happens? You’re hearing a human voice right next to you, as if it’s speaking directly to you. Some questions would pop up: Who is this person? Should you trust them? How true is this information? The answers would have a lot to do with the information being broadcast, as well as the sincerity and timbre of the person’s voice. A variety of factors come into play, all of which will cause you to wonder what’s going on. If you need something concrete, consider two extreme examples of this: Imagine the Hindenburg disaster. (“Oh, the humanity!”), and then think about the famous War of the Worlds broadcast, directed by Orson Welles. How would you react?

Whether you imagine yourself to be trustworthy or not, one thing remains true. The medium has transformed the message. An official-sounding voice might make you confident that what you’re hearing is true. Another voice might give you the impression that it’s a radio drama, fiction being performed for you through the technology in this new box.