Despite that it’s commonly believed that the Internet facilitates free speech, a new study indicates that on social media people tend to not speak out if they believe that their views are unpopular or if they perceive that they may be negatively criticized for expressing their heart-felt opinions. The authors explain that it’s long been known that people self-censor in face-to-face interactions:
A major insight into human behavior from pre-internet era studies of communication is the tendency of people not to speak up about policy issues in public—or among their family, friends, and work colleagues—when they believe their own point of view is not widely shared. This tendency is called the “spiral of silence.”
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.
This new study found, however, that, as with face-to-face interactions, people will also self-censor on social media if they believe that they hold unpopular (“minority”) opinions or because they fear “ostracism or ridicule” if they express themselves truthfully. In fact, there’s much more to fear these days than ridicule or shunning.
When specifically asked whether they would express an opinion about Edward Snowden and government surveillance, people reported that they were more likely to avoid such discussions on social media than in person.
Researchers should not be surprised by these results. Why should anyone be surprised that people might be afraid to opine online about the NSA spying on citizens who comment on the Internet?
It should also be no surprise that on social media people self-censor and/or avoid discussing controversial subjects, because most social media now require individuals to identify themselves. More and more often, people cannot opine on the Internet anonymously.
Ever since 1776, when Thomas Paine anonymously published his pro-revolution pamphlet, Common Sense, anonymous public comment has been “the American Way.” But that’s a right that’s being deliberately eroded.
Multiple social media platforms are now linked together. They share information (via cookies), so that someone logged onto Facebook is automatically “known” to Twitter and You Tube, for example, and also to many other sites, including some blogging platforms. People have learned this disconcerting fact. Some learned it in a rather unfortunate way when they forgot to log out of Facebook and then wrote something online that they would not have said had they realized that their true identities were being linked to comments that they had no power to edit or delete.
Often times, websites will allow comments only by those who are willing to identify themselves. Many news websites now require a person to log-in on Facebook or Twitter, so that the website administrators as well as readers know exactly who the commenter is. The reasoning, allegedly, is to encourage individuals to be more civil to one another, but one has to at least suspect that the progressively minded know that people will then self-censor and not state their true opinions, especially when commenting about a story published in the mainstream media.
It’s no secret that the media in the USA skew left. Thus, by forcing commenters to identify themselves, the media can suppress opposing views, avoid criticism, and keep readers from pointing out bias in their articles, all at the same time. In addition, they can promote their own political agenda at the expense of diversity of opinion.
And so it becomes harder and harder to remain anonymous when commenting on the Internet.
Fear (of the very real repercussions some have suffered as the price for speaking out) fuels the spiral of silence, ensuring that there is no diversity of opinion. This is exactly the result that some would like to see.
Politicians, progressive activists, and some social media executives, who coordinate with like-minded politicians, are pushing for laws, regulations, or policies specifically designed to prevent people from participating in discussions anonymously.
If a person is identified, then that person can be brought to heel after a little research into his or her background, which is now much easier thanks to social media. From a person’s Facebook page, depending upon how carefully the person crafted privacy settings, anyone can build a dossier on that person, including friends, family, likes, dislikes, political views, employer, church, associations (embarrassing or otherwise)–the possibilities are nearly endless.
Social media have become a particular weapon of the progressive left, who use political correctness to force people to conform to their mindset. Those who do not follow the preferred ideology or practice the increasingly common “religion” of secular humanism are shamed, at best.
At worst, they’re punished when they do not conform. The Enforcers of Right Think use information gleaned from the Internet to go after the wrong-thinker’s business, livelihood, family, and/or reputation. We’ll look at some recent examples in the next post.
The tendency that some people have to search and destroy those with whom they disagree is exactly why there’s a spiral of silence both on the Web as well as in face-to-face discussions. Depending upon how politically incorrect their points of view are, too many people find that they must self-censor their speech lest they, too, are investigated by the Enforcers of Right Think and then find themselves punished (e.g., fired from their jobs or expelled from school) solely because they exercised their constitutional right of free speech.