Teenagers trust algorithms to select stories nearly twice as much as they trust human editors, research finds

Teenagers trust algorithms to select stories for them nearly twice as much as they trust human editors

While teenagers are more trusting of traditional media - TV, radio and newspapers - than adults as they place mounting importance on facts in a ‘filter bubble’ era, adversely they trust algorithms to select stories for them more than human editors, the Edelman Trust Barometer has found.

The study of 1000 16 to 18-year-olds found that despite being the social media generation, the teenagers surveyed are uncomfortable with the pace of change.

Three in five are concerned about the pace of change in social media, while two in five are concerned about AI and robotics, eclipsing the concerns from adults. Nearly half the young adults feel the pace of change in mobile technology is too fast.

The teenagers are trusting of traditional media than adults by a margin of 59% to 48%, and more than 8 in 10 of the respondents say they are regularly engaging with current affairs.

What’s more, there were very clear signs that the younger generation has not had enough of “experts”, contrary to the opinion of Brexiteers, or of information based on data and logical argument.

They showed a greater propensity to rely on external expertise than the “filter bubble” of information on social media that has become increasingly influential on people of voting age.

The young people said they trusted experts four times more than people like themselves. They listed teachers and professors as their most influential and trusted sources of information. By comparison, adults trusted experts only 2% more than people like themselves. The young people also said they were influenced by logical arguments six times more than emotions.

Despite all the above, they trust algorithms to select stories for them nearly twice as much as they trust human editors, and trust search engines over information from their personal contacts a similar amount.

The research was conducted by Edelman UK & Ireland as an appendage to the Trust Barometer, which surveyed 33,000 respondents globally. The supplementary survey aims to define the concerns and trends among the next generation of voters for the 2020 election.

A group of high schoolers attending an Edelman event this morning where the results from the survey were unveiled blamed the collective feeling of distrust for the government, concern about the pace of technological change and pessimism towards future prospects on one thing: education.

"We have products coming in from all different countries, but we are not teaching young people how to use them," one student said.

"There are so many pressures on young people today of having to get the very best grades to get into the middle income bracket. There is not enough opportunities from people [in businesses] wanting us to come in for our skills rather than the grades we have on a piece of paper. The definition between the employability skills and letters on a piece of paper, there needs to be a fair balance of it. You can memorise a syllabus, that doesn't necessarily mean that person can problem solve etc. That is a massive issue that needs to be resolved," another student said.

The next generation of voters feel disenfranchised by Britain’s vote to leave the EU, with nearly 70% stating they would have voted to stay in last June if they were of voting age. Concerningly, they are distrusting of all institutions - the government, media - to give them optimism for the future.

Speaking at the event, former MP Ed Balls commented: "When I looked at survey, on the one hand there was pessimism, about prospects for young people, their incomes in the future, the security and stability, the pace of change and the destabilization of events and politicians.

"On the other hand there wasn’t pessimism about the ability of public policy and cooperation to solve problems. There is still a commitment to international cooperation. For us as a country that has just voted for Brexit, it is interesting to see that young still want us to be cooperating with countries around the world to solve problems which we all face mutually."

Financial concerns that relate to the rising cost of living and housing crisis are likely big contributors to this deep mistrust of politics and media as an institution. When asked to choose who they might vote for to be Prime Minister, the clear winner was ‘None of the Above’.

"Clearly politicians have not been succeeding in building that confidence and trust in young people," Balls said.

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Jessica Goodfellow

The Drum's media reporter covering everything from publishing, TV, social media, radio and technology.

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