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Why is trust in business at an all time low?

The annual Edelman Trust Barometer is out and, like the economic news overall, this year the bad news just keeps getting worse. 77% of respondents in the US trust business less than year, internationally trust was down with 62% of the respondents.

Well, sure, it has to do with the economy. And that in itself is an important lesson. Are US corporations to blame for the mess we are in? No, but certainly there are individuals and selected companies and even some industries who have played an important role in our current situation. But when things go bad, blame gets spread broadly. When people are feeling negative, fearful, uncertain–it is more likely that they will think negative thoughts about just about anyone and everything. So some of this can be attributed to the general negative attitude in our world today and some to people painting all business with a very broad brush.

But I think there is something else, more serious and more insidious. I am preparing some comments for my presentation at the Ragan Communications and PRSA conference next month in Las Vegas. It’s about social media and crisis communication but I am finding myself focusing on what I am calling “toxic talk.” It’s the hair trigger outrage that is so obvious in so many blogs and comments. It’s the bitchiness and anger feeding on each other on sites like Digg and Newsvine. It’s the trashing and name calling of anyone and everyone with whom the commenter disagrees. It’s the eagerness to turn the bitterness into a viral attack. I used to say that social media was like the Cheers bar–a gathering of friends to discuss things of mutual interest. But it’s not, not overall. It’s seems more like a saloon from the cowboy movies where surly men in black hats peek out from under the broad brims and the camera focuses on the proximity of their itchy fingers to the six-shooter in their worn holster. There a sense of tension and danger and instant tragedy hidden only slightly by the tinkling of the honky tonk piano.

Now I’m getting negative about social media. Certainly there is more to it that this. But the toxic talk is pervasive and provides an overall mood and atmosphere that I find disturbing. It’s not just the uncensored language and raw emotion–as unacceptable as I personally find that. It’s the bitterness to almost anyone or anything that is seen to have too much power. While the demographics of social media are quickly changing, it is the young who have dominated it so far and the young who have set this tone. Why are so many young people so ticked off at so many–particularly at business?

Is there a connection between the rapid growth and widespread use of social media–the incredible expansion of the online conversation–and the sharp decline in trust in business?

What do you think?