Spiral of Silence & Twitter

Spiral of Silence is a theory in Mass Communication…it’s simple.

My first encounter with this theory was during my first/second year in the university, under the module, Theories of Mass Communication.

It was my first point of call with the Hypodermic-Needle [media messages work on people like magic], Two-Step Flow [people depend on other people’s interpretation of media messages], Uses & Gratifications [people use the media to meet certain needs, it’s not just magic], Agenda-Setting [the media may tell us what to think about, but not what to think] theory etc.

I particularly liked the Spiral of Silence because it was really easy to remember, and didn’t have too many tenets that one had to cram and store in the brain for exam purposes… :P. This is how I helped myself remember what the Spiral of Silence theory stood for in pedestrian terms…

Basically, Spiral of Silence tells me that I mostly shut-up my mouth and keep my thoughts to myself in any discussion where my opinion falls into the minority.

If I talk...?

If I talk…?

That is, even when living under a system of government that is sold out to protecting people’s right to express opinions on the public questions of the day, there are still circumstances where people would be reluctant to do so, because of a built-in fear of isolation or exclusion.

This theory was put forth by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann.

The flow goes: The majority thinks this is right|  I don’t agree with them| But I better keep my mouth shut!

This theory crossed my path again while doing some reading for the research. Stephen Cooper in his book, Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers as Fifth Estate of the Realm, was trying to draw a critical comparison between Neumann’s theory and Habermas’ Public Sphere theory [my main theory]…but iDigress.

Coming in contact with this Spiral of Silence reminded me of AUNTY NGOZI’s loss of the World Bank seat and the mixed reactions I witnessed on Twitter yesterday.

Many TWITTER-INFLUENTIAL people on the social network were rejoicing (to put it mildly) that she lost the position – and naturally, I saw a lot of FOLLOWERS follow suit. They have a right to their opinion surely, and from my discussions with some of the anti-Ngozi elites, their position is founded in their dissatisfaction of how she has handled finance and politics in Nigeria thus far.

I am pro-Ngozi, and the Spiral of Silence did not keep me from declaring that I wanted her on the World Bank seat…However, I began to wonder about others – take for instance the Occupy Nigeria protest.

Could there have been people who felt the removal of the fuel subsidy was a worthy venture, but wouldn’t dare air their views?

I would like you to please comment and tell me if you have ever been in the situation where you refused to engage in public discussions (especially democratic ones) because it was obvious your views fell into the minority – if you could cite a real -life example, that would be fantastic!

Your responses would also feed back into my project – and I would be replying in the comment section.

Thank you in advance!!

Media Junkie

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17 thoughts on “Spiral of Silence & Twitter

  1. rosanwo says:

    This is very true, in my private conversations with a few twitter peeps, they claim they dont want to have an head on collision with so called twitter influential.

    I dont think this influential twitter handles take popular decisions as well, the case of NOI is debatable. Her not clinching the position reaction is based more on people wanting her to stay and finish the job she started in Nigeria.

  2. Oluwadamilare says:

    Certainly, though I rarely shy away from airing my views even if they fall in the minority.

    I remember the facebook hype and twitter trends that got president GEJ many followers before the elections. For many he was Godsent because of his name. For others his unwanted rise to power meant he would be the best president Nigeria would ever have had. The list of pro-GEJ-for-president comments pervaded social media.

    A certain friend of mine put this up on his wall, though am not sure I am quoting verbatim…”From his name, the events that have enveloped the corridors he has occupied, to his humble carriage, the man GEJ seems Godsent to Nigeria”…In less than an hour, 52 comments had popped up. Only 3 or 4 seemed to disagree with the summation of the status. These anti-GEJ commentators were not spared the wrath of those who truly “wanted the best” for Nigeria. They were critiqued irrationally by many, and insulted by a few. I wanted to comment but I didn’t.

    I wanted to tell them that while a name is believed to have significant influence on the bearer, it had never been proven. I sincerely wanted to ask them for any single achievement that could be ascribed to his famous meteoric rise. I desperately wanted to ask them what was his leadership style, beyond the mascara of humility. But I didn’t. I didn’t comment. It wasn’t because I was in the minority. It was because I knew they were blinded by their sentiments. And then I remembered that everyone was entitled to an individual opinion.

  3. Tomexy says:

    @ Rosanwo … Thanks for comment…that “head-on-collision” can be really scary, even online — this pushes my mind to start thinking about “cyber-bullying”… there has to be a thin-line between that “head-on collision” and cyber-bullying…

    @Oluwadamilare – Your comment is really insightful, thank you. Indeed you have brought a new perspective to the argument.
    You did not refrain from expressing your opinion because you were in the minority [which renders the Spiral of Silence theory useless to you], but because you simply decided it “was a waste of time?”

    This may call for a new theory…

    • aloted says:

      This is kinda similar to wat i was saying on twitter..when i know it will be a waste of time I don’t even bother joining the conversation, not because I am in the minority but cuz i know it will just be a waste of my valuable time.

      If the issue affects me or my family directly than thats a different topic

  4. There are two other instances when people could keep their minority opinions to themselves:

    1. If they don’t think they have a strong enough argument to back up their stand (pending further research)

    2. They may just not be bothered enough to engage.

    3. They may just be taking a few points of the other side, to refute at a later time.

    I have done all three of the above before. For someone who likes debates, like me, there is nothing worse than showing up at a gunfight with a water gun. 🙂

  5. I should have said errr…three. Three instances. lol.

  6. Oluwadamilare says:

    @Joachim: Watergun…Hahaha! With your comments, I hope you don’t do “excess research” and end up bringing SMGs to water gun fights?

    • Tomexy says:

      @Joachim LOL @ your analogy … gun fight with a water-gun—that person will need ‘mami-water’ support hehe… thanks for your contribution.

      @aloted & @oluwadamilare’s comments points to the fact that Spiral of Silence theory may not be be relevant when it comes to cyber-space… interesting…

      Please share page with friends and do LIKE D.M.J facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/diaryofmediajunkie

  7. Mark Amaza says:

    For me, it is mostly a case of ‘letting sleeping dogs lie’. I have learnt not to butt into every online conversation I see, even if when I feel the majority opinions are heading in the wrong way. But there are times I’ve done so and changed the tide of opinion. I always reward myself with a pat on the back for that

  8. MsAfropolitan says:

    Depends on the topic for me, when I feel passionately about something, I don’t tend to even know what the majority are thinking before I voice my opinion. It’s only later that I may realise that others too felt the same way. When it’s an issue that doesn’t immediately stir something in me, I refrain from just chattering away but as an opinion begins to take shape, I would voice it even if it happened to be the less popular one. To give an example, in university life I’ve often found myself having to make this latter choice, and as a result I feel that I’m being judged as something that I’m not, but often it’s a preferable option to remaining silent.

    • Tomexy says:

      Thank you for sharing @MsAfropolitan. What I have picked from your comment is that sometimes you prefer to stay silent over some issues (for a variety of reasons), but you are never silent because your opinion falls within the less-popular niche – online. In your instance, Spiral of Silence would then be obsolete. Thank you so much.

      @MarkAmaza You obviously enjoy being in the minority when the need arises… hence a ‘pat on the back’ 🙂 Thanks!

      @JJC “the ‘twitter influentals’ have gained a status where their opinions, however unsmart, becomes popular and gradually becomes accepted.” – Interesting!
      It’s actually great to know you are also a media scholar @ Mass media and politics. And yes, I do agree that the media frames events and issues in a particular way that subtly imposes that worldview on the audience. It has been argued that the news always has to be a story… a professional narrative…etc.. but that is not the discourse for today.
      So the ‘voltrons’ have attacked you (Voltrons being opinion-majority)… I wish you would share the tale, lol … but thanks for your comment.

  9. JJC says:

    I remember a module in Uni that was about the effect of the Mass media on politics and the Economy. The case study was about the 9/11 conspiracy theories and how CNN and ABC consistently painted a picture and that became the belief everyone who watched the news had.
    I agree that there is an indirect imposition of opinions or views by the media.
    Then to twitter, the ‘twitter influentals’ have gained a status where their opinions, however unsmart, becomes popular and gradually becomes accepted.
    I personally do not comment when I have no facts, or when it’s a debate I have little or no knowledge in. I remember I was in the middle of a debate on hedge funds, I only know what it’s about but nothing more. All through I withdrew my thumb from tweeting.
    Also, when my opinion is unpopular, I go ahead and say it. I really don’t care if anyone agrees or not. I try to remain objective.
    And yes I have had situations where I disagreed with the ‘twitter influentials’ on certains topics and their ‘supporters’ and ‘voltons’ attacked me.
    I was literally told I wasn’t making sense.
    The deal now is, if my opinion is unpopular, I say it, and hope no one notices or keep quiet.

  10. Personally I believe whoever refuses to voice his opinion because he’s part the minority is definitely a Sissy! These so-called twitter influentials attained their statuses I’m sure by having distinctive stands on various issues hence at some point or the other, they’ve had to make do with being part of the unwanted minority. Truth is the more we endeavour to stick a neck out and comment or discuss, the more we get to understand the other person/party’s point of view. I’m never afraid of sharing my opinion whatever the case once I have facts to back them up with.

  11. joe says:

    i was going to leave a comment, but my view is probably, most definitely in the minority.

  12. […] contrary to theirs, you are shouted down or insulted. It reminds me of Tomi Oladepo’s SPIRAL OF SILENCE & TWITTER. Like I told her, I didn’t even comment on that post because of the same reason she was […]

  13. 0latoxic says:

    I’m a believer in knowing when to speak up and when to shut up. Not everyone needs to voice their every opinion on every issue.

    There are however times when, despite one’s opinion swimming against the current of popular opinion, one needs to speak up and make a stand for what is right.

    I try to do this from time to time, both on twitter and, more often, on my blog. The biggest instance of my doing this would be here:


  14. […] Spiral of Silence & Twitter (teesdiary.wordpress.com) […]

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