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Why Americans are losing trust in elections and the media – Boise State Public Radio
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Americans’ trust in both their government and in each other is declining. That might be something you have concluded on your own from watching the news or even talking with your neighbors. But the respected research institute, the Pew Research Center, did what researchers do. They tried to get their hands around this by taking a fresh look at the data they’ve gathered in recent years to try to understand how and why Americans are losing trust in a number of their critical institutions.
Right now, we want to focus on two of those institutions, elections and the media. By elections, we’re thinking about how elections are administered. As you must know, Democrats and many Republicans are engaged in a furious fight over new restrictions that Republican-led states are trying to, or, in many cases, have imposed on the administration of elections. Republicans are calling these common-sense measures to tighten up lax practices or to respond to voter concerns. But Democrats say most of these are unnecessary at best and unfair, punitive and racist at worst, with a clear strategy to keep minorities and others from voting.
As you probably know, the White House and progressive congressional Democrats have been trying to pass new legislation that would standardize some of these rules around the country, an effort that has been stymied both by Republicans and more conservative Democrats. And trust in the media – well, that’s been on the decline for some time, even before former President Trump and his allies started haranguing news reporters and outlets he didn’t like as enemies of the people.
We wanted to hear more about what researchers have to say about this, so we called two of the researchers at Pew, Bradley Jones and Katerina Eva Matsa, to tell us more about what they found out. And they’re with us now. Thank you both so much for joining us.
KATERINA EVA MATSA: Thank you for having us.
BRADLEY JONES: Thank you.
MARTIN: So, Katerina, I’m going to start with you. And this is a basic question, but why focus on trust?
MATSA: We know that the news media is an important pillar of U.S. democracy, of democracy overall. So trust is a huge part of that, right? Like, we want to see how trust in the news media may have a relationship with the sources that people turn to and how, especially now, with this misinformation environment that people are in, how they manage to make sense of the world.
MARTIN: So, Bradley, your focus is politics and policy. Faith in the administration of elections has been front and center in no small part because of the riot at the U.S. Capitol. What stands out to you most about Americans’ trust in elections and their election systems?
JONES: Well, that’s exactly right. When the candidate that a person supports loses in an election, we see trust decline. That’s a pattern that we’ve seen pretty regularly throughout our data going back to 2002, after the 2000 election, when we really started studying this in depth.
MARTIN: Has either of you noticed stark trends in regards to who tends to be the most distrustful? Is there any sort of clear pattern that emerges in terms of age or political affiliation or geographic location or anything like that?
MATSA: Yeah. We actually looked at two years’ worth of data between 2019 and 2021. Definitely, partisanship is the biggest factor. And what we saw in the data is that Republicans specifically are the ones that – they have become increasingly distrustful towards the news media. So for instance, like in 2021, 35% of Republicans and Republican leaners trusted national media, compared with 78% of Democrats. Like, this is a huge gap, as you may expect. One caveat to that is that there is a relationship with who is in power at the time – so that relationship shifts. But never before, prior to 2016, we had seen that huge divide between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to their views about the news media.
MARTIN: Hmm. That’s fascinating. Bradley, there’s data to suggest that Americans trust their local elections more than they do federal elections. Can you tell us more about that?
JONES: Yeah. That’s an interesting pattern that we’ve observed across different domains. People just tend to have more comfort with the things that they’re familiar with. And so when we asked people about confidence that their own ballot was counted, we see higher levels of trust in that than people do about ballots around the country, for example.
MARTIN: So I know that you’re both researchers and not policymakers. Can you dream with me for a bit here? And I want to ask you both, what do you think this all means for American society? And what do you think needs to happen to change this?
MATSA: Yeah. I mean, as you know, it’s very tough for us to give any kind of advice in that front. Also, it’s not the one thing. Like, I could talk about polarization, and, OK, there are partisan divides. But it also is different things for different people. For instance, when it comes to trust, we saw that Black Americans are more likely to value their news media when they see themselves in the stories or when they’re – or the news media as part of the community. They’re actually more likely to have that confidence.
There’s so many elements – that’s where I’m getting at. And I know it’s maybe not a very satisfying answer, but there’s so many things that are happening that it’s very, very difficult to say, OK, we need to fix this one thing, and then the relationship is going to be repaired or trust is going to come back.
MARTIN: Well, I think it may not be simple, but if it’s the truth, that’s what we need to hear. Bradley, what about you? What are your concerns about the current moment, and what are some elements that might affect that trajectory?
JONES: Well, the biggest concern is that elections are the primary way that the public is connected to politicians, right? It’s the way that we hold politicians accountable, and it really kind of underpins the whole system. And so if faith and trust in elections is undermined, is – erodes, it’s like the foundation of the building crumbling, right?
You know, we fielded a survey in the middle of last year that had a lot of different election proposals. And there’s a fair amount of partisan agreement across issues in terms of things that could be done to reform elections. So for example, both Republicans and Democrats agree that there should be a paper trail in their balloting. There are large majorities of partisans on both sides. We also see, actually, majority support among both Republicans and Democrats for ID requirements. There’s majority support for making Election Day a holiday and other reforms like this.
So there are things that potentially could be done to bolster trust in the system. But the challenge is, just like you said at the beginning, is that it’s so often framed as a zero-sum argument. And so there are some real challenges. I think you pointed out as well that the messaging coming from elites really matters in these views. So politicians at the highest level bear a lot of responsibility for the things that they say about elections. And those kinds of things filter down into the public.
MARTIN: That was Bradley Jones, senior researcher, and Katerina Eva Matsa, associate director of research. They’re both with the Pew Research Center – such a complex conversation, obviously a conversation we need to have not just once, but many times. Thank you both so much for talking with us and sharing your expertise.
MATSA: Thank you.
JONES: Thank you so much, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Financial advice is exploding on social media, but can you trust it? – Global News
In March of 2020, Ellyce Fulmore found herself without a job and with plenty of time on her hands, like millions of her young millennial and gen-Z peers.
That’s when Fulmore took to TikTok. Though she’d been working as a kinesiologist, she had been setting up a business as a life coach on the side. And she’d also had a stint working at a financial aid office at a recreation centre in Kelowna, B.C. where she helped people low-income individuals and families access recreational opportunities.
After experimenting a bit on the social media platform, Fulmore quickly found her calling.
In whimsical 60-second videos, the then 25-year-old started tackling topics like debt management and budgeting under the handle queerd.co.
The videos would often feature Fulmore lip-syncing to rap music while bite-sized financial tips appeared as brightly coloured text on the screen.
“I realized that a lot of people also obviously got laid off and were struggling with their money and not having emergency funds and things like that,” she says.
Two years later, Fulmore, who is based in Calgary, has amassed a following of more than 400,000 TikTokers. She is also quickly building up her fan base on Instagram, where she now has 12,000 followers. Companies like fintech startup Neo and robo advisor Wealthsimple have partnered with her. Countless others, she says, have asked her to be their brand ambassador.
Welcome to the world of so-called finfluencers, where 20- and 30-somethings talk about finances the way they discuss pop culture, fitness hacks and beauty routines.
The recent explosion of financial content on social media comes with questions around conflicts of interest, misinformation and outright scams. Regulators say when it comes to who should own the responsibility of policing bad financial content, the duty shouldn’t necessarily be on the platforms themselves. Instead, the regulators think they should be working with them.
In the decades since the introduction of MySpace and the eventual rise of Facebook and Instagram, the entrenchment of social media in the day-to-day lives of Canadians has become nearly inescapable. Global News is unravelling the many facets of influence these platforms have, including on young people’s investment decisions and their relationship with money.
Personal finance as entertainment
In many corners of the internet, personal finance has long shed its boring image. In the blogosphere and on YouTube, there are plenty of resources that will explain concepts like index investing or tax planning without jargon or the usual cadre of stock photos featuring piggy banks, calculators, professionals in suits and hourglasses.
On TikTok, though, the idea that “finance is cool” has reached a whole other level. It now can be, legitimately, entertainment.
Take one of Fulmore’s most popular videos, for example. It’s called “Starbucks isn’t the reason you’re broke.” In it, Fulmore, performing one of her signature lip-sync dances, captures the zeitgeist of an entire generation who’s been watching the dream of homeownership fade away amid skyrocketing home prices.
“Your daily Starbucks isn’t the reason you can’t buy a house,” goes the first caption. The next slide reads: “$6 Starbucks x 5 days/week = $30 a week.” Then Fulmore does the rest of the basic math: $30 a week multiplied by the 52 weeks of the years works out to $1,560 spent on lattes annually.
“That $1,500 would barely make a dent in a down payment,” the text reads next. The conclusion? “If your daily Starbucks brings u happiness, and fits into your budget… BUY IT.”
The video has more than half a million likes.
Funny videos tend to do better on TikTok, says Hector Diaz, a 24-year-old from Ontario known to his 188,000 followers as cryptocomix.
Diaz, who was working at a call centre before achieving TikTok stardom, says after experimenting a bit on the platform he landed on what he calls “crypto humor.”
“Those ones got more traction, and that’s what gave me the initial kick-off,” he says.
One of his early successes is a video entitled “The most expensive pizza ever,” about the now-famous story among the crypto community of Laszlo Hanyecz, an early adopter of Bitcoin, who reportedly spent 10,000 bitcoins to pay for a Papa John’s Pizza in 2010. The purchase would be worth more than $600 million at the current rate of the world’s most popular digital token.
For 25-year old Vasiliki Belegrinis, known on TikTok as passionstoprofits, the secret sauce of many viral videos often involves mention of Aritzia, the popular Canadian fashion brand. Belegrinis, whose day job is at Clearco, a revenue-sharing firm led by Michele Romanow, of Dragons’ Den fame, has nearly 28,000 followers.
One of her most popular TikToks, for example, is about her shopping at Aritzia coat while also buying Aritzia stock.
“It’s (about) making things much more relatable to the audience that’s actually going to enjoy the content,” she says.
The best finfluencer content out there is approachable and just plain fun, says financial planner Alexandra Macqueen. It demystifies concepts ranging from diversifying investments, using registered accounts and planning for unexpected expenses. There are even videos about how to plan meals for the week.
“There’s a lot of content that just breaks down, you know, the basic building blocks of life,” Macqueen says.
And social media has offered a finance-oriented platform to diverse voices, with finfluencers often discussing how race, gender identity and mental health, among other factors, affect money management.
“That diversity inclusion piece is very important,” Macqueen says. “Finance is demographically older. It’s white and it’s male.”
Reaching users through their phones has become even more important during the pandemic. The average amount of time Canadians spent on their phones increased by a whopping 20 per cent in 2020, according to analytics firm App Annie. And overall, consumers in Canada spent $2.9 billion through their phones during the same period.
Successful finfluencers don’t just talk about money — they also make money off their online cachet.
For financial companies, pairing up with social media stars is a great way to reach and gain the trust of an elusive but all-important demographic who use their phone for everything from paying taxes to investing but are often inured to traditional marketing channels.
Teaming up with a social media creator with tens or hundreds of thousands of loyal followers can make for powerful branding.
At CloudTax, a Canadian tax software startup that launched in 2019, finfluencer marketing has been “a huge success,” says founder and CEO Nimalan Balachandran.
Balachandran estimates social media marketing drove around a quarter of the company’s growth. In 2021 alone, CloudTax partnered with more than 15 finfluencers, including Belegrinis.
“We were able to kind of get the message across about filing their taxes by themselves and the services that we offer,” Balachandran says of the hard-to-reach gen-Z audience. “We got quite a bit of great feedback and also a lot of new, younger people signed up for the services through influences.”
A question of trust
Partnerships between finfluencers and financial companies may be a match made in marketing heaven but they come with risks for both parties.
Companies must make sure any sponsored content they bankroll is accurate and abides by existing regulations, especially when it comes to promoting investment products.
Wealthsimple says it works closely with influencers to develop content that’s distributed on the robo advisor’s site rather than on the creators’ own platforms.
The company also says it steers clear of anything that could be construed as providing investment or tax advice. A compliance team vets and approves all content before anyone hits “publish.”
Creators themselves must be careful about who they collaborate with. Trust, after all, is the currency of the finfluencer business.
“Trust is huge and it’s very easy for a creator to kind of stain their name or their reputation,” says Diaz.
That’s why finfluencers often say they do their own vetting of the companies that ask to piggy-back on their social media success.
Influenced: Should Ottawa regulate social media?
Fulmore says she mostly pairs up with brands she was already relying on for her personal banking and investing and that she already knows well.
“I turn down a lot (of them), like, 10-plus a week because it’s really important to me that I’m only working with those companies that I would actually use or do actually use and really support myself,” she says.
TikTok, for its part, says it requires all content creators to disclose branded content and takes action when it spots unlabelled sponsored content. The company told Global News it has also added public service announcement-style messaging that appears automatically on content carrying popular finance-related hashtags such as #fintok, #stocktips and #cryptotrading. The warnings encourage users to do their own research.
Meta, until recently known as Facebook Inc., which also owns and operates Instagram, says it removes content that purposefully deceives, misrepresents or otherwise defrauds or exploits others.
Still, the proliferation of investment advice on social media has Canada’s securities regulators pondering whether they need to step up their game.
The British Columbia Securities Commission has proposed new rules that would apply to anyone promoting specific investments online. The consequences of flouting the rules, if they came into effect, would include penalties of up to $1 million for each contravention.
Disclosure requirement laws vary from province to province for companies whose stock is being promoted and the investor relations they might hire, according to the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA). The BCSC would like to see more transparency for anyone telling others on social media they should buy, hold or sell investment products.
Easy ways to reach your financial goals
“The key idea here is that some people who are promoting stocks online actually have a conflict of interest,” says BCSC executive director Peter Brady. “That could include something like owning shares of the company. Or it could be that they’re getting paid by somebody, not necessarily by the company itself — it could be by another shareholder or investor. We think it’s important that when people are encouraging others to buy investments online that they come clean and tell people what’s their stake in the game.”
The proposed regulations are still under review, but Brady says the goal is that they will eventually be adopted across Canada.
Scams vs. questionable advice
What prompted the BCSC to draft new rules was a flurry of aggressive and opaque promotional activity on social media that started even before the pandemic and involved cannabis and blockchain companies, Brady says.
One big concern is online pump-and-dump schemes, whereby scammers pump up the price of an investment by creating buzz and spreading misinformation only to then dump their holdings of the investment when the price has reached its peak as a result of the promotion. Naïve investors are usually left to hold the bag when the investment’s value suddenly collapses along with the collective enthusiasm for it.
“At any time, there’s (something) like cryptocurrencies (that) are very trendy, that’s going to attract fraudsters,” Henderson says. “Anything that’s trendy — be very careful about the advice that you’re reading or the recommendations that you’re following.”
But in the quality spectrum of online personal finance content, there’s much that lies between the two extremes of sound, unbiased information on the one hand and outright scams on the other.
Dubious advice, unverifiable claims and questionable investment strategies abound. After a 21-month bull market, for example, there is no shortage of videos of TikTokers bragging about reaping windfall profits with risky bets such as buying and selling crypto or a single stock.
That’s a murkier area for regulators to wade in.
“I actually don’t think we should enforce against bragging,” quips Grant Vingoe, chair and chief executive officer of the Ontario Securities Commission.
But if someone is making concrete statements about the quality of an investment without disclosing that they hold it or have bet against it, then that could be construed as spreading misleading information, Vingoe notes.
“Under general principles of fraud and misleading statements, it’s just wrong to make recommendations like that without disclosing your financial interests,” he says.
New Year’s resolution: Expert advice to keep your finances in check
Talking up investments on social media poses another tricky question: is it tailored or generic investment advice?
“If someone is giving you advice on what you should invest in that is tailored to your particular circumstances, that person has to be registered under securities laws,” says Gail Henderson, an associate professor at Queen’s University Faculty of Law.
Securities regulators maintain a searchable online database of professionals who are registered as investment advisers in the province they do business in. They also often flag popular investment scams and schemes on their website.
It’s a different story for personal finance advice. Although there are a number of professional certifications for those who give money advice for a living, including the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation, there are no licensing requirements in most of Canada.
With the exception of Quebec, anyone can call themselves a financial planner, although Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are working on regulating that designation.
For her part, Fulmore says she’s very careful to stay within her comfort zone when discussing finances. And she steers clear of talking about specific investments, she adds.
She’s studying to become a certified financial planner (CFP).
The plan, though, isn’t to eventually become a traditional financial planner, she says.
“Part of me getting certified is so that I can just expand on the information that I’m giving online,” she says.
“I see my business as more of a financial education platform, and that’s kind of the goal for the future: to just make financial education more free and accessible.”
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
How To Avoid The Doom Scroll On Social Media – Forbes
When Nir Eyal published his book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life in August of 2019, the world was relatively safe. The economy in mid to late summer was pumping on all cylinders (the GDP increased by 2.1 percent1), the unemployment rate had dropped to 3.5 percent, and no major wars were raging around the world.
That fall, his book became a national bestseller, and Eyal, an author and speaker who has taught university courses and consulted with major companies such as Google and Microsoft, became more famous. He was an outspoken critic of how apps like Facebook and Instagram use techniques that are not that dissimilar from how a Las Vegas slot machine works to make sure we keep clicking, liking, sharing, and scrolling. (Another expert, Tristan Harris, uses the same slot machine analogy.)
Eyal used a term for how social media apps tend to form bad habits and become obsessed. He called it the infinite scroll. (I prefer the phrase doom scroll.) Imagine a full-grown adult standing in the line at Starbucks flipping through countless photos of people celebrating birthdays and posing in front of beaches, and you’ll know exactly what it’s like. Our brains are constantly seeking these feedback loops and microrewards, even if they involve pictures of cute babies and teenagers showing off a new hairstyle. Eyal spoke about how these apps hook the user. His solution was to develop new routines and habits that help us become more disciplined in our use.
And then everything changed in January of 2020. The first reported cases of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, took everyone by surprise. Some of us, including myself, dismissed it as a minor outbreak. It would subside. It would not make a global impact. We were wrong. A pandemic ensued. Unemployment rates skyrocketed to over 11 percent in the United States, which means about 23 million people were unemployed by August 2020. The economy crashed and burned, dropping by nearly 40 percent according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
As you can imagine, this created a whole new level of stress. Eyal told me by phone that he noticed a quick spike in book sales during this time period, surprising everyone involved—especially his publisher.
“We all started searching for some form of escape,” he told me, explaining how the normal methods of managing our time, controlling our tech urges, and even scheduling our time tend to blow up during periods when our mental well-being is under attack from all angles. We lack consistency during these times, and we tend to use social media as a salve. “We all have internal triggers,” he says. “When we’re suffering and more anxious, we turn to social media to relieve the pain.”
I noticed this change in myself. When I was writing a book, the United States experienced a surge in coronavirus cases in places like Texas, California, Florida, and even the Midwest. Meanwhile, my youngest daughter, Katherine, was planning a wedding, I changed roles, we had problems with our house, and . . . I was writing a book. When stress happens, as it always does, we look for quick fixes. All it takes is moving your finger a few inches across the screen of your phone. Eyal told me distraction starts inside of us, in our hearts and minds, when we look for quick relief. We experience minor discomfort and click on Instagram.
My thoughts turned negative at times. I wasn’t alone. One study found that people around the world send six thousand tweets every second. The most interesting discovery is that tweets are more positive in the morning and then slowly become more and more negative. As the day progresses and we experience stress, distraction, and setbacks, we devolve.
Author and researcher Angela Duckworth has talked about how negativity is like a virus. It spreads faster and infects more people than positive thoughts. We can’t seem to help it. We’re prone to be negative.
My Story of Constant Social Media Use
The pandemic started in the spring of 2020, forcing many of us to work remotely. Meetings on Zoom became an exercise in futility because they are a poor replacement for human contact.
When we experience disappointment, we have a tendency to satiate ourselves with tech. We fill the void of unproductivity with constant clicking and scrolling on websites and social media. We call scrolling through Facebook the Facebook feed because that’s exactly what it does. It feeds us.
As Eyal explained to me and covered in his book Indistractable, distraction is another form of procrastination. We know we have work to do but we digress into a doom scroll. Because our work starts to slip, we then experience even more stress; we hurry up and complete more tasks, which makes us look for more quick fixes. The cycle continues. Eyal calls this learned helplessness. I call it a vicious cycle of tech obsession.
What if we broke the cycle? My solution is to limit how long we use social media to about seven minutes at a time, to put parameters on your social media use and help you avoid constant scrolling.
A productivity tip only carries you along for so long. You might turn off the notifications on your phone, delete a few apps for a while, or even do a social media fast. These are all good things. But they only work for a while. Let’s say you turn notifications off for a month. Great! You haven’t really set parameters on how you use social media. You haven’t determined why you are using social media in the first place. You delayed the obsession.
One reason setting time limits on social media is that, instead of firing up your Twitter feed and checking in on the Kardashian family or reading about the latest political crisis, you deal with distraction head-on. My seven-minute social media routine takes a similar approach. You set parameters for how often you use apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn and decide what you want to accomplish.
There’s no reason to completely abandon social media, since these apps help us connect with one another. Using them effectively means you define the purpose of the apps and learn how to control your impulses.
Measuring Your Usage
One reason we use social media so often is that we don’t know how to relax and take breaks. So we get on Facebook. When we refresh the screen to see if we have more likes on a post, we experience immediate, short-term gratification with bits and bytes. The social media companies know what we’re seeing has to be random, because then it’s elusive and unpredictable. We keep chasing our tails, but we don’t even know we have a tail.
The dangers go deeper than you might think. One example is from World War II when Adolf Hitler used similar techniques of throttling information and propaganda to foster allegiance. As John Mark Comer notes in his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, the Nazi propaganda machine centered on wants and fears—a double-edged sword. The goal was always to entice, allure, and withhold in order to maintain interest.
My son-in-law is Austrian, and he’s told me stories about people who lived during that era. When prisoners escaped from concentration camps, the locals would try to ignore them and not assist their escape. Why is that? They believed in the propaganda machine of want and fear. Citizens knew the only way to buy groceries (the want) was to obey. They knew any deviation from the Nazi ideology would result in swift punishment, imprisonment, or far worse (the fear). Being caught aiding and abetting an escapee from a concentration camp was dangerous. I once visited a concertation camp in Mauthausen, Austria, and could almost hear the echoes of torture and abuse emanating from the stone walls and barred windows. Hitler focused on want and fear because that’s what worked.
In recent years, teen suicide rates in the United States have risen by 150 percent according to social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. He blames social media, and the reasons seem to mirror the Hitler propaganda machine.
First, the want. Teens crave the attention and how it makes them feel when they see comments and likes on social media. Adults are not immune to this. Second, the fear. In a podcast with human rights advocate Tristan Harris called Your Undivided Attention, Haidt explained how social media is not optional. Even if a teen decides to delete their accounts, everyone else participates. Not being on social media, especially apps like Instagram and TikTok, makes you an outcast. Nielson Group estimates we check our phones about ninety-six times per day. We live on our plastic devices, doom scrolling to the bitter end.
What’s the answer to this dire situation? As with any obsession, it’s in controlling our behavior and setting limits.
Excerpt from my book The 7-Minute Productivity Solution.
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