by Kevin Stoda
One topic that has been eating me lately is the issue of "Social Media and the Spiraling Silence",
which is the title of a Pew study of Americans and usage of Facebook or Twitter to discuss the issues of our times. As the title implies, Pew researchers are disappointed to share that self-censorship is widely found on the internet's social media these days and too often the silence is growing.
That Pew article came out at the end of the recent war of Israel and Gaza. A few weeks earlier one Jewish blogger whom I had come across had already bemoaned the intolerance of many of her "Facebook Friends" or former Friends who had recently "unfriended" her because of her position on Israel. This female blogger went on to share how only a decade earlier she had been overjoyed at the fact that social media had enabled her to link up with old friends and colleagues dating back to her college days in the 1980s.
This same Jewish blogger indicated that in her college days these same folks and she had had many wide-ranging discussions about the great issues of the day. Whether Jew, Christian, or Muslim--or from whatever race or nationality--the give-and-take had been fair but open. People lived and let live back in the 1980s, she recalled. They did not "unfriend" someone who disagreed with them about a single issue or a few issues. However, the blogger continued, now people will "unfriend" on Facebook for a single issue.
That blogger wondered if this was the result of peoples and times having changed over the decades in America or whether there was something evolving on the internet leading to increased intimidation of people online, i.e. demanding self-censorship of others and then from themselves--thus keeping individuals in the USA from speaking up and discussing issues of the day, particularly in the examples given of her sharing articles or photos.
I concur with the findings of both (1) what the PEW researchers found and (2) what this female blogger has observed. Self-censorship through bullying by friends and loved ones does occur in America's social media. On the one hand, there should be caution in publishing one's opinions or interests, and this caution is certainly appropriate in many cases due to the heatedness surrounding certain topics in our media.
However, should we all be forced on the most popular social media platforms to avoid discussing issues of the day at all cost? What kind of message will this send to our children if we don't stand up against war and militarization at every turn?
The title of the PEW study is certainly correct in implying that a horrible "spiral of silence" ensues when we begin one-by-one silencing ourselves in social media, so as not to be embarrassingly "unfriended" on the internet.