Trust is one of the most important categories for human communication. It determines whom people opt to talk to, where they go on holiday, which products they buy, what food they eat, and how they vote. This prompts sociologists to research the very mechanism of trust, what it consists of and what it’s influenced by. In this, scientists have to take into account the fact that technologies for interaction between people are constantly changing: a century ago, people mainly communicated in person or by correspondence, fifty years ago – by phone, and today, most of communication happens on the internet. To that end, it’s necessary to understand not just how much people trust each other, the authorities, the media, and brands, but also how the level of trust in communication technologies is changing.

About a year ago, sociologists of ITMO University’s eGovernment Center (Institute of  Design and Urban Studies) decided to start researching the level of cyber-social trust among St. Petersburg residents. 

“Our project is dedicated to the fundamental study of user trust in information technologies when applied in various fields, that is, we’re not only interested in the level of trust in a computer as an object that you can touch with your hands but especially as a means for communication with people, government and municipal agencies, and organizations. We’re trying to understand whether St. Petersburg citizens have confidence in the quality and effectiveness of such a connection,” explains Lyudmila Vidyasova, the head of the project and a PhD in sociology. 

Lyudmila Vidyasova. Photo c/o Lyudmila Vidyasova
Lyudmila Vidyasova. Photo c/o Lyudmila Vidyasova

How to measure trust

The first stage of the project was the preparation of a questionnaire for the city’s residents. It represented a set of statements with which respondents were to assess their agreement or disagreement on a five-point scale where “5” is full agreement and “1” is complete disagreement. First, the sociologists wanted to find out how actively computers are used as a means for communication, which is why the survey’s first module asked respondents to assess their computer, internet and social media skills. 

The second module was focused on online communication with government and municipal agencies: the researchers were interested in whether the respondents had any experiences of online queries to any state bodies, how they would rate it, and whether they feel that modern communication technologies allow them to have more say on what is happening in the country. 


The following modules covered communicating on social media, using banking apps, and online shopping. Apart from that, the sociologists took an interest in St. Petersburg residents’ experiences in online learning, as well as how much they trust information about medicines and treatment methods that can be found on the internet. 

“Other statements [of the questionnaire] concerned the assessment of the safety of transmitting data on the internet and the trust in the administrations of social networks,” shares Lyudmila Vidyasova. “The questionnaire concluded with questions on trust in general: whether the citizens trust each other, government agencies, companies, and internet providers – whether they had any negative experiences of receiving internet services, whether they suffered any moral or material damages.”

The questionnaire was used for a survey that covered 600 people on the basis of representative sampling. The research was conducted in the city’s multiservice centers in 2019. Now, the researchers have summed up its results. 

Trust in social media, banks and state services

Online payments. Credit:
Online payments. Credit:

The survey demonstrated that 66% of respondents use the internet, though only 40% consider themselves to be advanced users. An even smaller percentage – 35% – of respondents use the internet to obtain state services. This is perhaps due to the reluctance to disclose their ID and other personal data online – only 42% of those surveyed consider exchanging such sensitive data with government agencies safe. 

“More than half, 52%, of the respondents believe that the internet helps them be more informed about the activities of government bodies,” points out Lyudmila Vidyasova. “But the respondents are less optimistic in assessing the internet’s capabilities when it comes to citizens’ attempts to influence political decisions. Only 38% hold that the internet does enable citizens to make an impact [on official decision-making].”

The number of active social media users is slightly smaller than the total number of internet users. More than half, 53%, of the respondents regularly check Facebook, VK, Twitter, Instagram and other social media. That said, only 19% believe that their social media data is well-protected. All in all, only 26% of those surveyed trust communication with other social media users. 

Online banking and commerce enjoy possibly the highest level of trust among St. Petersburg citizens. Approximately 60% of the respondents use online banking apps, and a little over a half regularly buy something from online shops (with 70% of them esteeming this experience as unequivocally positive). In general, 61% of respondents trust the safety of internet payments. 

What trust consists of


It is, however, not enough to just calculate the percentages. It’s important to identify the patterns, and understand what trust consists of. The researchers pinpointed three key factors, with the first one being institutional trust. Citizens are more willing to engage in online interactions with those organizations they generally trust. It’s also easier for them to share their data if they trust the administration of a social network and their internet provider. 

The second factor was identified as transactional trust – it signifies the degree to which citizens trust the blueprints for interaction and information exchange existing in online shops, social media, banking apps or state services websites. 

Last but not least, it’s important how much people trust the information they receive via various channels. They expect the information they get from another participant of an interaction to be complete and reliable.

The researchers also attempted to uncover whether there is a relationship between internet trust and age, education and social status. It turned out that the more educated a person is, the more they trust online communication. Another finding was that young and middle-aged people are more likely to trust internet interactions than older respondents. 

The project will continue this year. This time, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey will be held online. 

“We’ll conduct a survey among the representative sample of 800 people,” says Lyudmila Vidyasova. “We want to comprate the data with that from last year. It’s necessary to understand how the level of trust has changed in the conditions of mandated self-isolation, with some people discovering the internet almost from square one.”