Gay Bullying and Online Opinion Expression: Testing Spiral of Silence in the Social Media Environment

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Abstract

Social network sites (SNSs) such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn have recently attracted the attention of public opinion scholars. However, research testing existing public opinion theories in a social media context is scarce. This study represents arguably the first empirical examination of the spiral of silence theory in the social media environment. Through an experimental manipulation embedded in an Internet survey, respondents (N = 760) were presented with a hypothetical scenario (i.e., friendly or hostile) concerning gay bullying, an issue suited for investigation due to its moral components. Willingness to self-censor and to some extent, congruency with the national opinion climate were significant predictors of various online opinion response strategies, indicating the presence of the spiral of silence phenomenon in the social media environment. However, individual characteristics such as issue importance were related to willingness to communicate about the issue, suggesting a liberating effect on opinion expression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-36
Number of pages19
JournalSocial Science Computer Review
Volume32
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2014

Keywords

  • issue importance
  • online opinion expression
  • perceived opinion climate
  • social media
  • social network sites
  • spiral of silence
  • willingness to self-censor

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