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Social Media Pressure: Opinions Die Offline?


The online world and the offline world are going to remain perpetually linked. And it’s not surprising that both affect each other. A recent study shows that social media is good at not just silencing opinions online, but also have an effect on how people behave offline.

Over the course of the last few years social media has become charged with opinions, and lots of them. Public outrage is more often than not directed through social media outlets — be it a campaign against Israel or anger towards a brand. However, it seems like not all people are doing all the talking on social media. The Pew Research Center has released a study which outlined that people are less willing to talk about the issues that matter on social media, than they are offline.

Of course this doesn’t seem like rocket science. People generally don’t want to get into arguments online because it seems as though their alternative opinion maybe smaller against that of their friends and family. Pew is bringing back the ’70s term “spiral of silence” to explain the problem. What this means is that people, if they feel like a particular opinion is extremely popular, will generally stay quiet against it instead of voicing their contrarian thoughts.

“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,” Pew said.

So even though on the surface it seems like social media is the perfect place to let it all out, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Pew, for instance, focused on Snowden’s revelations in their research. That is one subject that divided the nation. Some were in favor of being spied on if it meant greater security against events such as the Boston Bombings and 9/11, while others thought it was a deep invasion of privacy and was unjustifiable.

Around 42 per cent of the users that took Pew’s survey said they were willing to talk about the issue on social media, while over 86 per cent reportedly didn’t mind having in person discussions regarding the issue. Another 14 per cent reported that they wouldn’t talk about it in person and wouldn’t post about it online either. In fact only 0.3 per cent reportedly claimed that they would take to social media while refusing to discuss it in person. The report goes on to offer an explanation as to why “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”.

The report goes on to demonstrate how a typical Facebook user only had a 50 per cent chance of having an in person discussing about a given topic. So, not only are people refusing to discuss things online, but this behavior extends offline as well.

Of course we need to take this information with a grain of salt. There are certain limitations to this study. For starters perhaps people react in the manner recorded only specifically to the Snowden issue. Moreover, a large part of the controversy was the NSA’s ability to collect data from social media sites, in that situation people can’t be blamed for not putting up their opinions online. Further research into the subject should be able to shed more light on how people behavior offline when they’re consuming information online.