On Wednesday, Facebook made an announcement that you’d think would only matter to Facebook users and publishers: It will modify its News Feed algorithm to favor content posted by a user’s friends and family over content posted by media outlets. The company said the move was not about privileging certain sources over others, but about better “connecting people and ideas.”
But Richard Edelman, the head of the communications marketing firm Edelman, sees something more significant in the change: proof of a new “world of self-reference” that, once you notice it, helps explain everything from Donald Trump’s appeal to Britain’s vote to exit the European Union. Elites used to possess outsized influence and authority, Edelman notes, but now they only have a monopoly on authority. Influence largely rests with the broader population. People trust their peers much more than they trust their political leaders or news organizations.
For 16 years, Edelman’s company has been surveying people around the world on their trust in various institutions. And one of the firm’s findings is that people are especially likely these days to describe “a person like me”—a friend or, say, a Facebook friend—as a credible source of information. A “person like me” is now viewed as twice as credible as a government leader, Edelman said at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “We have a reversal of traditional influence. It is going not top-down, but sideways.”