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Pew Study: Facebook, Twitter Users Held Back Views On Snowden


NPR's Business News begins with the spiral of silence. Let's explain what we mean here. Even before the Internet, people were unlikely to talk about controversial topics with a friend or coworker if they believed their viewpoints were not widely shared. This tendency is known as the spiral of silence and it turns out social media has made it even worse. That's according to a new report by Pew Research. Here's NPR's Aarti Shahani.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: The Pew study looks at one of the most controversial news stories of the last year. Edward Snowden versus the NSA. And it finds that Americans were much more inclined to talk about Snowden off-line than online.

KEITH HAMPTON: About 86 percent of Americans were willing to have a conversation about this particular political issue, either in person, at a community meeting, with family, with friends or with coworkers.

SHAHANI: Keith Hampton is lead author of the study.

HAMPTON: But only 42 percent of Americans were willing to have a conversation on the same political issue either through twitter or Facebook.

SHAHANI: And the small number that didn't want to talk about Snowden in person, that 14 percent, they did not turn to social media as a safe space to air their thoughts. In fact Pew finds that the platforms can silence self-expression, for example, among Facebook users.

HAMPTON: When they see that their social media friends don't agree with their opinions online, they're even less likely to have those discussions off-line.

SHAHANI: While the Internet is great for things to go viral, like the ice bucket challenge, the pew findings could make one less optimistic about how useful Facebook and Twitter are for nuanced debate. Aarti Shahani, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.
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