Social Media and The Spiral of Silence

↑ Artist Harry Clarke‘s 1919 illustration for Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelström”

Facebook and Twitter users are less likely to share their opinions when they meet with people face-to-face. The scientific term for this? The Spiral of Silence.

Have you ever had a gut feeling that something was true, and then it was confirmed by science and you were like, “Yes! I knew it!” That’s exactly what happened for me when results of a Pew Research Center study revealed that social media (Facebook, Twitter) seems to condition people to remain silent on political issues—and not just on social media, but in their daily lives.

As they say in upstate New York, “Ah, yep.”

The results are in:

  • People are more likely to discuss sociopolitical issues in person than they are on social media.
  • But Facebook and Twitter users are less likely to share their opinions when they meet with people face-to-face.
  • Frequent Facebook users (who use the site a few times per day) were 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… 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.
  • The typical Twitter user (who uses the site a few times per day) is less likely to share their opinions with colleagues at work.

Is there something about using Facebook and Twitter that conditions you to avoid talking about sociopolitical issues and leap into the Spiral of Silence? It looks that way, but since I’m not sure you’ll give me a thumbs up, just forget I mentioned it, okay?

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