Facebook’s overarching goal is to make the world more open and connected. While they’re doing their best about the connection part, a recent Pew Research study asks if the site is making people be any more open.
The study, Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence,’ examines social self-censorship and how open people are to talking about controversial or polarizing topics on social media sites. For instance, 86 percent of U.S. people polled said that they willing to have an in-person conversation about the NSA, but only 42 percent of Facebook and Twitter users were open to posting about it. Of the 14 percent who were unwilling to discuss NSA with others, only 0.3 percent would post about the topic on Facebook or Twitter.
The study points out that Facebook users may be shy to point out conflicting beliefs that may anger or upset their friends and colleagues on the site.
Facebook researcher Winter Mason responded to the study in a note:
Why are the contexts in which people are willing to talk about the issue different for Facebook and Twitter users? It seems that Pew’s study says more about how different people discuss important matters (e.g. people who visit Facebook regularly versus those who don’t), rather than the effects of Facebook or Twitter on how people talk about public issues. Clearly the story is far from the simple conclusion that social media stifles debate.Finally, the report suggests that Facebook users are less willing to join the discussion because they are more aware of disagreement among their friends. But this begs the question: how are they aware of this disagreement if there is this spiral of silence? One possibility is that people are sharing their opinions on issues by doing things like sharing news stories and liking other people’s statuses without joining a discussion directly. Silence should not be interpreted as suppression – it might just be that people want a less confrontational way of expressing their beliefs.
Pew explained the topic of social self-censorship in a report:
Those who do not feel that their Facebook friends or Twitter followers agree with their opinion are more likely to self-censor their views on the Snowden-NSA story in many circumstances—in social media and in face-to-face encounters.
In this survey on the Snowden-NSA matter, we found that when social media users felt their opinions were not supported online, they were less likely to say they would speak their minds . This was true not only in social media spaces, but also in the physical presence of others.
Readers: Do you think twice before posting on a controversial matter on Facebook?
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