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14.08.2015
Some social media creators and supporters have hoped that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter might produce different enough discussion venues that those with minority views might feel freer to express their opinions, thus broadening public discourse and adding new perspectives to everyday discussion of political issues. People were less willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in 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. Previous ‘spiral of silence’ findings as to people’s willingness to speak up in various settings also apply to social media users. Overall, the findings indicate that in the Snowden case, social media did not provide new forums for those who might otherwise remain silent to express their opinions and debate issues. 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.
Of the 14% of Americans who were not willing to discuss this issue in person, almost none (0.3%) said they were willing to have a conversation about this issue through social media. Not only were social media sites not an alternative forum for discussion, social media users were less willing to share their opinions in face-to-face settings. We also did statistical modeling allowing us to more fully understand the findings by controlling for such things as gender, age, education levels, race, and marital status—all of which are related to whether people use social media and how they use it. The results of our analyses show that, even holding other factors such as age constant, social media users are less likely than others to say they would join a discussion about the Snowden-NSA revelations. At work, those who felt their coworkers agreed with their opinion on the government’s surveillance program were 2.92 times more likely to say they would join a conversation on the topic of Snowden-NSA.
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 . People’s use of social media did little to increase their access to information about the Snowden-NSA revelations.
We asked respondents where they were getting information about the debates swirling around the Snowden revelations, and found that social media was not a common source of news for most Americans.
There are limits to what this snapshot can tell us about how social media use is related to the ways Americans discuss important political issues. In summary, this new social media-enabled program gets two thumbs-up from me for its vision and its initial execution. 86% of Americans were willing to have an in-person conversation about the surveillance program, but just 42% of Facebook and Twitter users were willing to post about it on those platforms. Of the 14% of Americans unwilling to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in person with others, only 0.3% were willing to post about it on social media. Further, if people thought their friends and followers in social media disagreed with them, they were less likely to say they would state their views on the Snowden-NSA story online and in other contexts, such as gatherings of friends, neighbors, or co-workers.
Yet, only 42% of those who use Facebook or Twitter were willing to discuss these same issues through social media. This challenges the notion that social media spaces might be considered useful venues for people sharing views they would not otherwise express when they are in the physical presence of others. This was true not only in social media spaces, but also in the physical presence of others.
In reaction to these additional revelations, people may have adjusted their use of social media and their willingness to discuss a range of topics, including public issues such as government surveillance. The rise of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, has introduced new spaces where political discussion and debate can take place.


It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Other Pew Research studies have found that it is common for social media users to be mistaken about their friends’ beliefs and to be surprised once they discover their friends’ actual views via social media. In contrast, social media sources like Facebook and Twitter were the least commonly identified sources for news on this issue. It is not an exhaustive review of all public policy issues and the way they are discussed in social media. This report explores the degree to which 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. It also might mean that the broad awareness social media users have of their networks might make them more hesitant to speak up because they are especially tuned into the opinions of those around them. Some 1,076 respondents are users of social networking sites and the margin of error for that subgroup is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
Some people may prefer not to share their views on social media because their posts persist and can be found later—perhaps by prospective employers or others with high status. As to why the absence of agreement on social media platforms spills over into a spiral of silence in physical settings, we speculate that social media users may have witnessed those with minority opinions experiencing ostracism, ridicule or bullying online, and that this might increase the perceived risk of opinion sharing in other settings.



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