Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Spiral of Silence

Research into Communications over the years has established the concept of the "spiral of silence". That means the tendency of people not to speak out on policy issues if they feel their views are not widely shared,

Much of that research was done in the years before the internet and of course before social media and texting began to have such a huge impact on communications. Since the advent of social media, there has been speculation (and some research) on the question of what this impact might be and whether social media might have the effect of reducing this spiral of silence.

Pew Research has released one study that directly addressed this question. They interviewed 1800 people on the subject of the Edward Snowden revelations of 2013 and hose peoples' willingness to express their views on the matter.

The results are revealing. They show that social media not only does not reduce the effect of the spiral of silence, it actually increases it.

"People reported being less willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in social media than they were in person—and social media did not provide an alternative outlet for those reluctant to discuss the issues in person.

"Fully 86% of Americans reported in the Pew Research survey they were “very” or “somewhat” willing to have a conversation about the government’s surveillance program in at least one of the physical settings we queried —at a public meeting, at a family dinner, at a restaurant with friends, or at work. Yet, only 42% of those who use Facebook or Twitter were willing to discuss these same issues through social media."

Among the other findings, people were less willing to discuss the affair in social media that in person. Also, people who used social media were found to be less willing to discuss these issues in person that those who did not use social media. An important finding!

The reasons for these findings remain a rich area for further research. For a report on the study, check this link.

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