The Spiral of Silence in Social Media

The desire for human connection drives much of our communication.  But at what point does hyperconnectivity become anxiety inducing or silencing?

 

Hyperconnectivity is the extreme increased interconnectedness of people who resulted from technological advances.  Social media platforms massively contribute to hyperconnectivity. Numerous studies and articles are written to address and discuss the impacts on society, communication, and mental health as a result of the rapid changes in to our interconnectedness and changes to communication methods.

 

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Ben Abbot, for Virgin (How the human need to connect works with hyperconnectivity), addresses the fact that as a result of comparing ourselves to others, we struggle with insecurity.  This is a result of us viewing all the happy, idealistic posts our social media “friends” post and comparing them to what’s really going on in our lives, as opposed to the idealistic posts we make on social media.  I’ve felt inadequate by other’s projection of perfection on Facebook, even by those who I know well. I do understand that no one is perfect.  However, I quickly forget that when all I see is everyone’s projections of how they want their digital reputation to come across.  It seems there is a goal of digital perfection.  I’m actually taking a break from Facebook for a while because my hyperconnectivity caused rising anxiety and I started to use silence for self-preservation.

 

Hyperconnectivity has caused me to become silent in order to preserve my dignity and sanity.  This  is the result of a theory known as the Spiral of Silence.  The Spiral of Silence is a term created in 1974 by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, a German political scientist. According to the website, Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann: The spiral of silence, dedicated to Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s work, her assumptions of social behavior are controversial but the spiral of silence theory is widely cited and replicated in social sciences.  The spiral of science is based upon numerous hypotheses.  The core basis to this behavior is that people are afraid of social isolation and therefore will be silent if they feel their opinion or belief will be rejected by the mass of their public sphere (in our digital world, those would be our Facebook page “friends” or Twitter followers.). The spiral of silence is typically elicited by controversial issues (politics, abortion, religion, etc.) and causes someone to be silent out to fear of pressure or social isolation.  The decision to be silent usually is done subconsciously (according to Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s research.  However, I’ve consciously made the decision to remain silent in many cases.  In 1974, when Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann defined the spiral of silence, mass media had a recognizable effect on public opinion by amplifying one side’s opinion and thus silencing the other.  This sounds to me that it is much more likely that silence is done so more consciously rather than subconsciously.  It is not that individuals changed their mind to avoid isolation, they kept their opinion to themselves.  An article by James Vincent (The “Spiral of Science”: How social media encourages self-censorship online,) discusses research done by Pew Researching Group that proves people will stifle their opinions on social media if they believe that their friends won’t agree with them.  Further more, the research and James Vincent’s article agree that concern for social isolation may not be the only reason for silence.  It appears our hyperconnectivity is evolving the spiral of silence into including factors such as “likes” and the permanency of  posting online opinions into our silence.

 

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Social media influences the spiral of silence on a much larger scale than mass media in 1974 because of hyperconnectivity. Further more, the way we become silent is different and the reasons we stay silent are different.  There are many reasons to stay silent: we value what others think of us, we want to avoid conflict, we don’t get enough “likes” on our posts, or we are simply overwhelmed by hyperconnectivity and all the information that we simply need a break.  I expect this is a short list of reasons and will grow as more research is done on the effects of hyperconnectivity and human behavior.  Has our desire to feel connected caused us more harm than good?

 

 

Posted on September 21, 2018, in Digital, Social Media, Society, Technology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Hello JJ,
    I really appreciate how you wrote from the position of staying silent. This is profound because we talk so much about all the hyper-communication happening, how it can cause security problems and the fact that many people are engaging in social media to an extreme. Yet, we all have a choice. We don’t have to participate. We can remain silent.
    However, remaining silent doesn’t necessarily remove us completely from the threats that exist in our technologically advanced world. Just using the internet to purchase something can put us at risk for having our identity stolen or for data mining. So, it’s important to remember that although staying “silent” is a way that we can control our own presence on social media, it doesn’t completely protect us from all the threats that are out there.
    Thank you for your post.
    Lisa

  2. Hi Jennifer,

    I think women feel this type of anxiety about posting online more than men. Even today, women are not encouraged to speak their minds in our culture. Stating an opinion publicly, especially if you are a woman online, will often be met with opposition and harassment. Women who are public figures, politicians, journalists, entertainers, and others with high profile positions are flooded with negative comments and insults online.

    USA Today’s Rachel Sandler reported on a Pew Research Center Survey in 2017 that found 41% of people in the survey experienced harassment online and 66% have witnessed it. Almost 80% said tech companies had the responsibility to prevent abuse on their platforms. Here’s a link to that article: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2017/07/12/online-harassment-rise-americans-want-tech-co-s-stop-it/469122001/

    In the survey, blacks and Hispanics reported being targeted online because of their race and ethnicity. Women were twice as likely as men to report being harassed online because of their gender.

    Thanks for your post.

    Angie

    • Angie, thank you for sharing the article. I’ve witnessed and endured some harassment vie technology. And I agree with you that women do have more anxiety about posting.

  3. Jennifer,

    Thank you for sharing that info about the “Spiral of Silence.” I had never heard that before. I would say that I absolutely practice that when it comes to hot topic items – especially politics. I do so for several reasons. First of all, I have never known anyone to change their party affiliation or overall core values based on what someone else says about a candidate. For instance, when someone posts a meme about Donald Trump – I can laugh or become a bit offended, but I will never change my votes or opinions based on a meme. Honestly, I find those posts on Facebook to be quite annoying and I have found myself unfollowing several people due to posts like these (be they for or against the Donald). Secondly, I run an online business and often, my customers will friend request me on Facebook (talk about hyperconnected!). I would be remiss to start posting my political views, or any other controversial views in a public arena. I could easily lose customers and viewers who do not agree with me on these things. So – I stay silent.

    I just wish, sometimes, that others would stay silent as well!

    Rebecca

    • I’m with Rebecca, I had never heard of this term before, but I do wonder if it could be considered a harbinger of “self care”?

    • Rebecca, I have also unfriended or unfollowed people in a way to avoid getting angry at people. I won’t change my political views but I might start to dislike someone based upon their comments, if they’re disrespectful.

      • I agree fully! I have unfriended and unfollowed as well. It seems that is the only thing some people can find to discuss anymore! I prefer those cat videos from the video clip we listened too this week!

  4. Hi Jennifer,

    First, your topic sentence of social media illustrating this idea of becoming too consuming and the question of when it becomes silencing is a great lead to the different directions users experience when using social media. Are these common feelings that you personally experience when using or abandoning social media?

    For me personally, I’ve been an avid user of all the social media platforms and going further I put together social media content for some of my clients, so I’m often exposed to seeing how it’s used from multiple perspectives. I feel that often times, even when I want to get away from it, I’m not able to. Having to put together content from a personal as well as from a business account can be challenging, however I feel less frustrated with the use social media on the business end.

    Your choice to go silent in comparison with the spiral of silence is a great reference to the types of paths users tend to follow or go down when using social media. I think the use and power of social media begins to illustrate people, especially your circle of friends, in particular way that may not always be an accurate representation of who they are, etc. It becomes so crazy to think too, (I’m kind of going off of on a tangent here), but when people even use the phrase, “It’s not official until it’s on Facebook.” Yes, I know I’m talking about relationships now, but the power of social media really begins to rub off on others and how they may begin or already view certain items.

    Great post and insight. I definitely agree with the items you go into greater detail above and having to take breaks from social media as a means to get away from it all. Do you ever feel that when you do take a break from social media and catch up with your friends in person that you might have missed a lot of things that happened or does this not bother you? Also adding to this when you do re connect with your friends in person versus virtually do you see more value added in these interactions?

    – Kim

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