Looking for intellectual discussions and sharing your opinions with people on Facebook or Twitter? Apparently that is not as easy as you might think as a new study has found that people who are active on social media platforms are less likely to share their opinions on big issues, regardless if they are online or offline.
The report calls it the “Spiral of Silence”, a tendency of not sharing your opinion when you believe it differs from those around you. This was actually something scientists had found in the pre-internet era when looking into human behavior, now the report has concluded that the Spiral of Silence is effecting social media users.
They looked at the Edward Snowden NSA leaks in detail and here is what they found.
- People were less willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in social media than they were in person. 86% of Americans were willing to have an in-person conversation about the surveillance program, but just 42% of Facebook and Twitter users were willing to post about it on those platforms.
- Social media did not provide an alternative discussion platform for those who were not willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story. Of the 14% of Americans unwilling to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in person with others, only 0.3% were willing to post about it on social media.
- In both personal settings and online settings, people were more willing to share their views if they thought their audience agreed with them. For instance, at work, those who felt their coworkers agreed with their opinion were about three times more likely to say they would join a workplace conversation about the Snowden-NSA situation.
- Previous ‘spiral of silence’ findings as to people’s willingness to speak up in various settings also apply to social media users. Those who use Facebook were more willing to share their views if they thought their followers agreed with them. If a person felt that people in their Facebook network agreed with their opinion about the Snowden-NSA issue, they were about twice as likely to join a discussion on Facebook about this issue.
- Facebook and Twitter users were also less likely to share their opinions in many face-to-face settings. This was especially true if they did not feel that their Facebook friends or Twitter followers agreed with their point of view. For instance, the average Facebook user (someone who uses the site a few times per day) was half as likely as other people to say they would be willing to voice their opinion with friends at a restaurant. If they felt that their online Facebook network agreed with their views on this issue, their willingness to speak out in a face-to-face discussion with friends was higher, although they were still only 0.74 times as likely to voice their opinion as other people.
Overall, the findings indicate that in the Snowden case, social media did not provide new forums for those who might otherwise remain silent to express their opinions and debate issues. Further, if people thought their friends and followers in social media disagreed with them, they were less likely to say they would state their views on the Snowden-NSA story online and in other contexts, such as gatherings of friends, neighbors, or co-workers. This suggests a spiral of silence might spill over from online contexts to in-person contexts, though our data cannot definitively demonstrate this causation.
Other key findings:
The typical Facebook user—someone who logs onto the site a few times per day—is half as likely to be willing to have a discussion about the Snowden-NSA issues at a physical public meeting as a non-Facebook user.
- Similarly, the typical Twitter user—someone who uses the site a few times per day—is 0.24 times less likely to be willing to share their opinions in the workplace as an internet user who does not use Twitter.
The survey did not directly explore why people might remain silent if they felt that their opinions were in the minority. The traditional view of the spiral of silence is that people choose not to speak out for fear of isolation.