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Unleashing the Power: How the “Fifth Estate” Drives Decision-Makers in Business and Politics

Fresh research reveals the power individuals have over policymaking

Individuals now wield substantial influence over the decision-making process of established institutions. Philip Morris International (PMI) (NYSE: PM) examined this topic in a white paper and an international survey recently released that discusses how individuals are leveraging the power of the “Fifth Estate” to transform public dialogue, influence policymaking, and challenge traditional institutions of authority. By leveraging the positive aspects of this emerging influence, society can drive meaningful action on the world’s critical issues.

“The world’s hierarchical structure is flattening,” said Marian Salzman, PMI’s Senior Vice President & Chief Corporate Citizenship Officer. “New digital platforms are democratizing power. Ordinary people can shape public discourse, promote the causes that matter to them, and influence policymaking.” Salzman added, “Understanding this information revolution is more important than ever for companies, governments, and society. Leaders must not underestimate the impact of the Fifth Estate phenomena nor dismiss its potential to disrupt corporate power structures. A thorough examination of this emerging force is essential to understand how this power can be harnessed for the betterment of society.”

The international survey, commissioned by PMI and conducted by independent research firm Povaddo in six countries, including the United States, revealed several insights that showcase the current information revolution. Most notably, it showed that most Americans (55 percent) believe most people now get their information from individual and community-based online platforms rather than traditional news sources, highlighting the waning influence of traditional media.

Other key takeaways of the survey include:

1. Americans are skeptical of social media but increasingly influenced by it:

  • Although just 22 percent of Americans trust the information they receive via their social media feeds, compared with 53 percent who trust newspapers, 61 percent say they have changed their views on a topic based on information from individuals or community-based forums online.
  • Despite increasing reliance on online information sources, most Americans surveyed believe these sources spread misinformation (56 percent) and offer opinions without evidence (52 percent).
  • Moreover, 48 percent believe they enable the spread of radical ideologies, and 45 percent worry that these sources exacerbate societal divisions.

“There is no question that a growing number of people—in the U.S. and elsewhere—are turning to nontraditional news and information sources, not least because of ease of access and a chance to feel part of a community,” said Dr. Moira Gilchrist, PMI’s Chief Communications Officer.

2. Americans want their fellow citizens to take more responsibility when accessing online sources:

  • 62 percent say people should only share content after verifying its authenticity.
  • 57 percent want people to insist on sources that fact-check information.
  • 52 percent want people to seek various opinions to inform their views.

3. Support for enhanced intervention by governments, regulators, and platform owners is less strong among Americans compared with the global sample:

  • 55 percent of Americans support efforts to improve transparency (e.g., providing information on sourcing and the authors), compared with 62 percent of the global sample who said the same.
  • 55 percent of Americans favor initiatives to combat the generation and spread of misinformation (vs. 61 percent).
  • 51 percent of Americans want law enforcement to have a stronger ability to investigate and hold to account those who misuse online platforms (vs. 63 percent).

“What we must now grapple with as a society is how to ensure this new realm of influence is channeled for the greater good,” said Dr. Gilchrist. “On the one hand, the Fifth Estate is a force that can drive broad societal action on critical issues facing our world. On the other hand, it too often favors emotion and ideology over facts, perpetuating polarization, sectarianism, and misinformation. Businesses, policymakers, and civil society must find ways to help ensure this emerging force moves society in a positive direction.”

Read PMI’s latest white paper here.

About the Povaddo Survey

Povaddo conducted the online survey on behalf of PMI between December 6 and 13, 2023. The survey was fielded among 6,048 general population adults aged 21 and older in six countries: Brazil, Italy, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Approximately 1,000 interviews were administered in each country. Data were collected in a balanced way to reflect national population statistics and were not weighted. Results are accurate to a margin of error of ±1 percent overall.

Philip Morris International, U.S.: Delivering a Smoke-Free Future

Philip Morris International (PMI), U.S. is working to deliver a smoke-free future. Since 2008, PMI has invested $12.5 billion globally to develop, scientifically substantiate, and commercialize innovative smoke-free products for adults who would otherwise continue to smoke, with the goal of completely ending the sale of cigarettes. In 2022, PMI acquired Swedish Match—a leader in oral nicotine delivery—creating a global smoke-free champion led by the companies’ IQOS and ZYN brands. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized versions of PMI’s IQOS Platform 1 devices and consumables and Swedish Match’s General snus as modified risk tobacco products. For more information, please visit and


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