Can social media increase the effect of undesirable social communication processes, such as the echo chamber or spiral of silence? These are phenomena of social closure that are ingrained or cultivated by social media due to design or dynamic biases, such as homophily.
The spiral of silence theory, which states that our need to belong may trump our free will, is as old as mass media. However, this is not a mere medium effect. The focus of the theory is in fact on the social dynamics, rather than on technology, that lead to the lemming effect. Such dynamics do not change easily. Positions such as those expressed by Cass Sunstein, who believes that opinion closure could also be discerned in the echo chamber effect of the Internet, can in fact intersect the spiral of silence theory. Each echo chamber can be fueled by the logic of spiral of silence. In fact, due to social media fragmentation, we might have several spirals of silences working simultaneously, one for each major societal or political choice, rather than only one.
“More frigthened to be isolated that of committing an error, they joined the masses, even though they did not agree with them.” Tocqueville
Spiral of silence theory was launched by Noelle Neumann at the beginning of the 1970s during her groundbreaking research on social activism and voting behavior. Studying the electorate at a time of political upheaval in Germany, she noticed that political opinions were more likely to be expressed if the respondents saw themselves on the winning side of a debate. For example, at the time many Germans believed that ultimately Communist Germany and the Federal Republic of Germany will converge as a unified, neutral socialist entity. Thus, those that believed that socialism is the ultimate consequence of political progress were much more likely to speak up in public about this topic. Interestingly enough, these individuals were a relative minority in Germany. The answers to the question captured by the graph below refer to the question “would you like to discuss about socialism with other passengers on a train ride?”
Perceived Support for One’s Opinions and Willingness to Speak Out: A Meta-Analysis of Survey Studies on the “Spiral of Silence” Carroll J. Glynn, Andrew F. Hayes and James Shanahan Page 452 of 452-463 stable URL http://www.jstor.org/stable/2749581
We report a meta-analysis of survey studies examining the relationship between people’s perceptions of support for their opinions and their willingness to express those opinions. Evidence from the analysis indicates the presence of a very small, but statistically significant, relationship between the degree to which a person believes others hold similar opinions and the willingness to express those opinions. Moderator analyses did not reveal significant moderators of this relationship, although the observed correlations were statistically heterogeneous, suggesting at least one undiscovered moderator.
In the last decade, blogs have exploded in number, popularity and scope. However, many commentators and researchers speculate that blogs isolate readers in echo chambers, cutting them off from dissenting opinions. Our empirical paper tests this hypothesis. Using a hand-coded sample of over 1,000 comments from 33 of the world’s top blogs, we find that agreement outnumbers disagreement in blog comments by more than 3 to 1. However, this ratio depends heavily on a blog’s genre, varying between 2 to 1 and 9 to 1. Using these hand-coded blog comments as input, we also show that natural language processing techniques can identify the linguistic markers of agreement. We conclude by applying our empirical and algorithmic findings to practical implications for blogs, and discuss the many questions raised by our work.
Republic 2.0, Cass Sunstein – Chapter 1