As a communications major in college, just like with the many art, history, and philosophy majors (I think you get where I’m going with this), I was often told my degree was worthless and that nothing I learned really mattered. Even though I was able to find employment within my major after graduating, I believed them when they said that the majority of what I learned would fall by the wayside and would ultimately be a waste of my time. However, every passing day I realize more and more that what I learned was more valuable than I could have imagined.
One course I was required to take was Communication Theory. A total throwaway class, right? I thought so too, even though I went to every class, paid attention to every lecture (and took notes too!), and wound up with an A. Since then, I’ve witnessed many of these theories actually happen in real life, not just some textbook example. There is one theory that I’ve seen in action literally every day on Facebook since Donald Trump began his rise through the GOP primaries to President of the United States, and it’s something that if unchanged can have dangerous consequences. I’m talking about the Spiral of Silence theory.
The SoS theory is more of an assessment of a societal norm, and even those who are unfamiliar with the theory know it (and probably practice it) without being aware of it. Simply put, the SoS theory claims that people want to be accepted by others; this is driven by the fear of isolation. To achieve this, we gladly voice our opinions when they fit into the “norm” (or whatever the perceived norm is) while holding back any opinions we feel may go against popular opinion. As the cycle progresses, the “popular” opinions are reinforced as facts, while the “unpopular” and unspoken opinions are suppressed and appear much weaker in popularity than they are in reality.
Anybody who has heard the terms “echo chamber” or “silent majority” is familiar with the SoS theory without even knowing it. The former describes those expressing the “popular” opinion, while the latter expresses the “unpopular” opinion. If you need an example of either of these in action, simply log onto Facebook and scroll for a few minutes. What do you see? If you’re like me, a Libertarian-Republican with a plethora of liberal friends, you see post after post after post about things that do not resonate with your political beliefs. For a while, I would engage these people in debate to try and see things from their side (and with a microscopic hope of possibly leading them to my point of view.) However, all I would get is endless ad-hominem attacks and non-sequiturs that amounted to nothing. After a while, it grew tiring, and I found that I did not want to express my opinions publicly anymore. This was partially to avoid more mind-numbing Facebook feuds, but also to avoid losing friends over political differences.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably engaged in some of this. The Hillary v Trump era saw the majority of these instances, although with Trump winning the election, it hasn’t slowed one bit. Every day I fight the urge to comment on someone’s political status, and I have more and more friends sharing that sentiment to me as well. This is the Spiral of Silence theory in action, and unless we learn to speak our minds freely without fear of social exile, it will continue until one opinion is cemented as fact and the other rejected. Those who deal in absolutes and claim “everybody believes X” or “nobody believes Y” have already reached this stage, so deep in their echo chamber that they may never be able to see the light. Meanwhile, the silent majority will continue to exist in the shadows and come as a complete and utter surprise when their views come to light. Does Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States ring a bell? The liberal media is still shell-shocked that he would have any supporters at all, let alone enough to be elected president, and they remained stunned today because they refuse to acknowledge that a silent majority is a very real thing.
So is this what repression in the social media age feels like? To not be able to express oneself freely due to an intolerant opposition? Welcome to Fascistbook, we hope you enjoy your stay.