A Question of Trust

Well-placed trust is a vital social good. It is foundational to a healthy democracy, and necessary for human beings to work confidently with one another. A lack of trust increases social frictions and collective endeavour. Understanding trust is vital to understand society: to know how messages are received, how organisations and processes are interacted with, and why – individually and collectively – we make the choices and live the lives that we do.

We have long tried to measure and understand trust: major national polls have measured trust in politicians, organisations and the professions for decades. But these techniques are criticised for only measuring trust as an abstract and general thing: trust is often highly contextual and dependent on situation. The rise of social media offers an opportunity to study trust in a new way. As we use new digital platforms, we create large new bodies of information about what we think, what we experience and who we are. A burgeoning new discipline – social media science – attempts to rigorously and ethically research social media to understand society.

This report uses new technologies and research methods to ask whether the study of Twitter can allow us to understand trust more contextually, constantly and ethically. It scopes the quality and quantity of trust-relevant data on Twitter, the ability of emerging technologies to accurately measure them, and, overall, whether this new form of research can add to our understanding of trust, and how it relates to the standard principles of good research and sound evidence.