NEW YORK — As trust in institutions continues to tank, consumers are ratcheting up their expectations that brands take leadership roles on issues — including addressing issues like data privacy and fake news, according to a new Edelman study.

“Brands are a new democracy,” president and CEO Richard Edelman told the Holmes Report. Consumers see brands as being more effective than individuals fighting for change, particularly around the publication of fake news and offensive content, because they have the power that comes with having ad dollars to spend — or not, he said.

By not doing so, brands also stand to lose the support of consumers who are increasingly spurning companies whose values they don’t share. “It’s very clear that the consumer is deeply convinced that brands are complicit if they don’t help fix this problem,” Edelman said, adding that “firms like ours should be pushing this.”

Those findings are among the key takeaways from the special Trust Barometer study on social media, a survey of 9,000 people in nine countries released Monday to coincide with the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The study’s findings amplify the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer released in January, which found trust in the media fellow below 50% in 22 of the 28 countries surveyed, driven largely by a drop in trust in search and social platforms. 

Specifically, the study found 71% of consumers expect brands to pressure social platforms to effectively safeguard personal data. Additionally, 70% of respondents expect brands to also curb the spread of fake news; 68% said brands should shield social media users from offensive content.

The study also confirms that trust in social media is way down. Only 41% of respondents said they trust the platform, with particularly low trust levels recorded in the US (30%), Germany (27%), France (25%) and the UK (24%). 

Contributing factors, notably the Cambridge Analytica scandal and fake news, may also have far-reaching ramifications for brands, as consumers are now more skeptical of data-based marketing techniques — including long-accepted practices like loyalty programs. A majority of respondents, 54%, said they are uncomfortable with marketers tracking their in-store purchases for targeting.

However, brands could allay that suspicion by being more upfront about their data policies. Other ways of improving social marketing, such as more careful vetting of influencers, can boost consumer confidence as well.

“More transparency will alleviate a lot of that concern,” said Kevin King, global chair of Edelman Digital. “It’s up to brands to be proactive.”

All of which points to a changing role for brands that makes them more than a media revenue stream, Edelman said. “I think brands should start considering themselves some form of a media quality provider,” he said. “People want brands to speak up in a credible, authoritative, factual way, not just promotional.”