Although America is currently divided over whether or not Edward Snowden’s infamous NSA leaks are justified or not, there’s no denying the incredible aftermath it has caused - even for social media posts.
According to a new study, the government spying revelations have induced a “spiral of silence” among social media, diverging away from the old truism that people speak more freely online than they would face to face. The Pew Research Center surveyed 1,801 US adults last summer about their willingness to talk about Edward Snowden and his revelations about the National Security Agency, and while 86% of them stated that they would be willing to have an in-person conversation about such topics, only 42% of Facebook and Twitter users said that they were comfortable posting on social media about it. In fact, people would prefer to talk about the NSA to total strangers at a community meeting than publish their same views online. Of the 14% of people that said they would be reluctant to mention the NSA situation at all in person, not even a full 1% said that they would be willing to post about it on social media.
But there’s still one thing that remains true: that people are more comfortable with sharing their views (whether online or in person) when they assumed that their audience agreed with them. If people thought their coworkers were on the same side, they were almost three times more likely to talk about the NSA at work, and twice as likely to join a conversation on Facebook if they felt that others shared their views. The report notes that “social media affects a long-established human attribute - that those who think they hold minority opinions often self-censor, failing to speak out for fear of ostracism or ridicule”, and the recent revelations about the NSA only intensify these feelings, as well as the high potential to be scorned for your views while discussing such a controversial topic.
But most shocking of all, is the realisation that maybe social media doesn’t hold the powerful properties we always believed it did. “This kind of self-censoring can mean that important information is never shared” states the man behind the research Dr. Keith N. Hampton, “some had hoped that social media might provide new outlets that encourage more discussion and the exchanged of a wider range of opinions. But we see the opposite - a spiral of silence exists online, too”.
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