Spiral of silence on social media

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A new study has found that social media does not encourage people to discuss controversial topics. In fact, it might even cause them to remain silent.

The survey, which was conducted by the Pew Research Center and Rutgers University, polled 1,801 American adults about their willingness to discuss the revelations of Edward Snowden in person and on social media.

The researchers found that social media users were hesitant to discuss the issue, with 86 per cent of those polled saying that they are willing to discuss the Snowden topic offline, while only 42 per cent of Twitter and Facebook users are willing to post about it.

Rutgers professor and author of the study, Keith Hampton, noted that some people hoped that social media would provide people with new outlets that encourage discussion as well as the exchange of a vast array of opinions.

“But we see the opposite—a spiral of silence exists online, too,” said Hampton.

The “spiral of silence” theory states that people are less likely to express their opinions if they see that they are different from those of their family, friends and colleagues.

Lee Rainie, director of internet science and technology research at the Pew Research Center, said one possible reason for the silence is that social media users are more aware of the difference of opinions around them, particularly on divisive topics.

“Because they use social media, they may know more about the depth of disagreement over the issue in their wide circle of contacts,” he said.

This makes them hesitant to express their views either offline or online for fear of offending or losing a friend, he added.