Are We Really Expressing Ourselves on Social Media, Or Are We Too Scared?

When social media really took off about 10 years ago, I think many of us assumed that it might just provide the perfect platform for true freedom of expression. But has this really happened? Are we sharing our convictions and opinions on our Twitter feeds and Facebook pages?

Apparently not. A study conducted by The Pew Institute in the U.S. has shown that most people would rather not express their personal views on policy or current affairs if it means going ‘against the crowd’ and possibly alienating friends, family and co-workers.

The report entitled ‘Social Media and the Spiral of Silence’ wanted to test the age-old theory that people are unlikely to share their opinions on policy if they believe their own point of view is not widely shared. In the online space this tendency is commonly known as the ‘spiral of silence’.

The study interviewed nearly 2,000 Americans on their thoughts and actions surrounding the 2013 Edward Snowden affair – the U.S. whistle-blower who  revealed widespread government surveillance of Americans’ phone and email records. The research sought people’s opinions about the leaks, their willingness to talk about the revelations online and in person, and their perceptions of the views of others.

The results were intriguing. Things do not change in the online world – people are not comfortable sharing their opinions on issues and current affairs online if they feel it is not going to be well received.

Here are some more of the details:

  • People were less likely to discuss the Snowden-NSA story on social media than they were in person
  • Social media did not provide an alternative discussion platform for those who were not willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story
  • In both personal settings and online settings, people were more willing to share their views if they thought their audience agreed with them
  • Previous ‘spiral of silence’ findings as to people’s willingness to speak up in various settings also apply to social media

So, at the end of the day it is clear – most of us will only share our opinions if we think our audience will agree. Regardless of whether it is offline or online, our desire to be accepted and part of the group is a far stronger pull than our desire to express our beliefs and ‘risk’ group membership.

And with loneliness being dubbed as ‘more deadly than obesity’ in some medical and psychological circles, I think being part of the herd sounds just fine.

Till Next Time,

Alex x

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