Finland provides an interesting case study on trust in the media in the digital era. The country is known to exhibit the greatest levels of trust in the political establishment and the government, as well as the media. In the Finnish “digital welfare state,” the news is an inseparable part of the mechanism, producing a high level of social trust within the welfare state system, and Finland features the highest level of media freedom and literacy in Europe.
This multimethod study examines different understandings of trust by studying in what ways Finnish audiences experience trust in news, especially when consuming news on digital platforms, and what factors explain trust in different news sources. Our basic premise is that trust can be understood in three ways: as dispositions of individual actors, as the social organization and the relationship between different social nodes and the system, and as a constantly negotiated property of social relations. We apply this three-dimensional framework in two sets of audience survey research data (2019, 2020) and reflect the findings with a focus group and expert interviews as well as with two similar surveys a decade prior.
Our results depict relatively high levels of trust in the media in Finland and surprisingly little change in audiences’ perceptions of trustworthiness compared to the earlier surveys. The most defining characteristic of Finnish audiences is critical trust. Audiences are aware of the impacts of digitization, especially the dangers of social media bubbles and disinformation. They also recognize market-driven imperatives of journalism yet appreciate legacy news media in its different digital forms. Our study indicates that a balance between skepticism and reliance on news outlets can exist in audiences’ perceptions of the trustworthiness of digital news.