Trust and Fakes in Communications: Insights from the EACD Summit 2023

The European Association of Communication Directors (EACD) Summit, held in Brussels at the end of June, tackled the pressing issue of trust and fakes in communications. Drawing from two thought-provoking panel discussions, the Summit shed light on the complexities of navigating truth in a world filled with misinformation.

Joumana El Zein Khoury, the executive director of the World Press Photo Foundation, brought attention to the alarming statistics revealing a lack of trust in media. With 70% of Europeans claiming to have experienced fake news and 40% expressing skepticism towards mainstream media, the question of what is real and what is true becomes increasingly important.

During the panel discussion titled "World Press Photo: News Photographers – Witnesses to Truth," Khoury highlighted the crucial role of data validation, particularly in illustrations. She emphasized the need to consider context, showcasing an impactful example—the Ahmad Halabisaz photograph, which received an honorable mention in the 2023 Asia contest. The image depicted an Iranian woman sitting defiantly in front of a busy square in Tehran, challenging the mandatory hijab law. Through vibrant colors contrasting with the greyness of oppression, the photograph captured both courage and the consequential nature of such acts.

In a world where the average attention span for an image is just 3.5 seconds, discerning truth from falsehood becomes a daunting task. To illustrate this challenge, the panel conducted a real-life experiment—a guess-play of truth and falsehood. All оf us, professional communicators,  showcased relative good but far from perfect success, highlighting the importance of honing our ability to navigate information authenticity within limited time frames.

The same relevance of authenticating press releases in today's media landscape became evident during an informal lobby discussion with delegates from Wiztrust. Journalists must reclaim their role in verifying sources to guarantee the legitimacy of the information they receive. Failure to do so can lead to detrimental consequences, such as declining stock valuations and ruined customer trust. 

The second panel discussion on the related topic, "Global Trends for Communication Leaders," featured Matt Painter, the Managing Director of Ipsos Corporate Reputation. The Ipsos Global Trends Survey revealed that brands seeking trust must demonstrate competence, commitment, and mutuality. Interestingly, 76% of Chief Communication Officers no longer believe it is solely the government's responsibility to solve social problems. However, brands must be cautious not to merely employ social language without effecting real change. Skepticism arises when actions do not align with intentions, as sensed by 72% of the people.

The discussion emphasized the interconnectedness of reputation, recognizing factors such as inflation, poverty, social inequality, crime, violence, unemployment, and the long-term impact of the pandemic. Trustworthiness emerged as a critical factor in brand perception. Reliability, transparency, responsible behavior, shared values, and good intentions all contribute to building trust.

The EACD Summit presented a compelling narrative on the battle between trust and fakes in communications. It underscored the urgency of addressing the erosion of trust in media, the need for data validation, and the importance of understanding context. Moreover, the Summit highlighted the responsibility of brands to act on their social purpose commitments and the interconnected nature of reputation. Navigating this landscape requires commitment, action, and an unwavering dedication to truth in an age of information overload.