Users of Facebook and Twitter are apparently less likely to voice their true opinions on hot political issues according to a new survey.
The study suggests Facebook and Twitter actually encourages self-censorship and users are adopting far more of a herd mentality rather than a healthy mentality when it comes to independent thought and making up their own minds on matters of a global and personal nature.
The research was carried out by Pew Research Centre in Washington D.C. in conjunction with New Jersey’s Rutgers University.
Researchers have discovered that what they have termed the spiral of science phenomenon is alive and flourishing on Facebook.
In a nutshell, the spiral of science is the common syndrome whereby Facebook users refuse on the point of death to discuss any controversial unless they know the majority of their peers agrees with them.
Put simply, there’s a reason why the ice bucket challenge is so popular on Facebook and world affairs isn’t.
Rutgers University communications professor Keith Hampton told the Daily Mail:
“People do not tend to be using social media for important political discussion. And if anything, it may actually be removing conversation from the public sphere.”
Following Edward Snowden’s confession that he leaked classified intelligence exposing the widespread government surveillance of Americans’ phone and email records, the researchers behind the new study decided to conduct a survey on how people felt about the case.
Hampton said the Snowden case provided researchers with a concrete example of a major national issue that divided Americans and dominated news coverage
Nearly 2,000 adults were surveyed, and 86 percent revealed they would be willing to discuss their own opinions about government surveillance in person at public meetings, in work, at a restaurant, etc.
Just 42 percent of Facebook or Twitter users would be willing to discuss it online. Additionally, the average Facebook user was half as likely to discuss the Snowden case in first-person scenarios compared with a non-Facebook user.
The study also found that only when a person had the reassurance that their Facebook network agreed with their own viewpoint, were they likely to join a discussion.
Director of the Pew Research Center Internet Project, Lee Rainine, said:
“It’s possible that social media actually makes people sensitive to different opinions. Because they use social media, they may know more about the depth of disagreement over the issue in their wide circle of contacts.
“This might make them hesitant to speak up either online or offline for fear of starting an argument, offending or even losing a friend. There is a concern that a person’s fear of offending someone on social media stifles debate.
“However, a society where people aren’t able to share their opinions openly and gain from understanding alternative perspectives is a polarised society.”
Throughout history, mob rule has often reared its ugly head and whenever we play follow the leader it leads us straight back to the primitive swamp, where all that is coarse and vulgar in human nature crows, “Base! How low can you go.”
Is Facebook just a new medium for a lowly human instinct that’s as old as the hills. Or has social media made political cowards of us all?