One of the central themes of the World Economic Forum summit this week is “restoring trust”; this initiative comes at a moment when progressive corporate organizations such as the WEF are being scrutinized for violating U.S. antitrust laws.
A WEF panel discussion called “Disrupting Distrust” featured speakers from Mastercard, the United Way, and Consumers International, as well as communications consultant Richard Edelman. It proceeded under the slogan: “Trust is at the heart of meaningful multi-stakeholder cooperation … Yet levels of distrust are higher than ever.” The panel was hosted by Kathleen Kingsbury, an opinion editor at The New York Times.
The discussion opened with a report from Edelman’s Annual Edelman Trust Barometer, which found that trust in government had declined substantially, leaving corporations as the most trusted institutions in society. Edelman also warned of a “growing mass class divide” in public opinion. The divergence of public opinion started in 2013 in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, he said, and it has now “metastasized” to three-quarters of the countries in the world.
Helena Leurent, director of Consumers International, said “economic pain” is the top issue causing mistrust. “The consumer is embattled,” she said, citing dramatic increases in food and fuel prices over the past two years. “The cost of living is the body blow.”
“I find a lot of irony in this,” Joel Griffith, research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told The Epoch Times.
The Battle for TruthAnother topic on the trust agenda was what Edelman called the “battle for truth.” Rather than what had previously been the “Moses model,” in which truth is handed down from higher institutions to the masses, Edelman said, “now trust is local, in my employer and in my company and my CEO.”
Speaking for The New York Times, Kingsbury said that “in journalism, we struggle with an issue of a lack of trust … particularly in our expertise.”
At a separate event yesterday, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) told Davos attendees that “the problem that we have is the open press system and basically all the platforms.” This, he said, allows people to express views that are “extremely right or extremely left, and it seems like they are the majority speaking. They are not the majority.”
The WEF hosted a parallel discussion titled “The Clear and Present Danger of Disinformation,” hosted by former CNN host Brian Stelter and featuring New York Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger and other media executives.
“The broader mix of bad information that’s corrupting the information ecosystem ... what it attacks is trust,” Sulzberger said. “And once you see trust decline, what you then see is society start to fracture. And so you see people fracture along tribal lines.”
The New York Times received a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for its reporting that alleged former president Donald Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election. These reports turned out to be false, but the divisive narrative persists despite having been disproven.
One panelist, Vera Jourova, the European Commission’s vice president for values, who had lived under communist censorship in what was then Czechoslovakia, said, “We must come with rules that will not be abused.”
“Content that is illegal offline has to be treated as illegal online,” including “hate speech,” she said, but disinformation “in most cases is not illegal content.”
Jourova noted that in her conversations with Facebook regarding removal of content, “90 percent of the requests were coming from governments, so the elected politicians mark as disinformation something that is uncomfortable.”
U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) told the panel that while he supports free speech, “the difference is when I have a constituency that I’m trying to keep healthy, and I can’t get them to take a COVID-19 vaccine because of misinformation that’s propagated on the internet.”
Angela Williams, CEO of the United Way, said that her organization overcame a problem of mistrust regarding “vaccine equity” by bringing government and corporations together in a unified narrative.
Mastercard Works to Expand Trust, Equity, and Surveillance“We always think about inclusion as a way to foster trust,” Salah Goss, who runs Mastercard’s racial equity initiative, stated. “If you don’t have access and you don’t have equity, you are more mistrusting.”
“Our CEO just wrote something that helps sum up three ways that we can look at technology for trust,” she added. “The first one is just basic data principles on privacy and governance,” namely, that “you should own your data, and it should benefit you.”
Mastercard, Visa, and American Express recently announced that they plan to implement a merchant category code that allows them to track firearms purchases, with the goal of handing over any activity that they consider suspicious to federal authorities for investigation, without a warrant or a crime being charged. Mastercard and Visa have also developed technology that allows for tracking, on a voluntary basis, the carbon footprint of all purchases.
Antitrust Investigations May Be Gearing UpAs the WEF attempts to restore trust, the movement to align corporations behind the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) agenda may soon face investigations for violating U.S. laws. According to the Sherman Antitrust Act, which was written to protect consumers from corporate collusion or oligopolistic behavior, it is illegal for companies to join together against other companies or industries.
In November, GOP senators issued a letter to more than a dozen top corporate law firms with ESG advisory practices, stating that “of particular concern is the collusive effort to restrict the supply of coal, oil, and gas, which is driving up energy costs across the globe and empowering America’s adversaries abroad.” The letter told the legal firms that “to the extent that your firm continues to advise clients regarding participation in ESG initiatives, both you and those clients should take care to preserve relevant documents in anticipation of investigations.”
House Republicans sent similar letters to Climate Action 100+ and Ceres, two ESG corporate clubs among many. “We are writing you because of your roles in coordinating how some companies pursue ESG policies in ways that may violate antitrust laws,” the letter stated, noting that “many domestic corporate interests increasingly march in unison in advancing progressive policy goals.”