Do you have an opinion about the economic gap between the wealthy and the poverty-stricken? What about gay marriage? Perhaps racism?
I know I have an opinion about all three of those issues and so much more and I know you do too. However, a recent study from the Pew Internet Research Project reports that despite social media trying to foster communities, it has yet to break the barriers of open discussion about certain topics.
This so-called “Spiral of Silence” is a notion coined by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, a German political scientist. (Don’t fall asleep on me yet!) The theory states that people in social media tend to step away from their own opinion and become silenced once a more dominant opinion presents itself. Basically it’s like high school all over again — where most would just agree with the popular vote and keep their mouths shut for fear of rejection. I don’t know about you, but I graduated years ago and I’m a grown adult with plenty of voice.
The problem with social media is that when you post or share something online, it is attached to your name and you might as well ‘wear what you share’ as a tattoo branded on your arm because it doesn’t leave you. No matter what field you are in or how little you think people are paying attention to your online footprint, if we’ve learned anything over this past decade, it’s that PEOPLE ARE WATCHING.
Remember the case of Justine Sacco and how one tweet brought down her career and reputation? I was very curious about the whole incident so I followed it thoroughly and while the tweet was extremely insensitive, a friend of hers said that Justine was relatively new to social media and noticed that the tweets that were “cheeky” got the most amount of attention. So Justine, in her own mind, thought she was doing just that but realized later there’s a difference between being cheeky and discriminatory.
Now, what about a recent incident that took place at my alma mater, The University of Kansas? We’ve all had relationships, good and bad, but what about taking the bad to the interwebs? One guy did just that and found himself expelled from KU for tweets about his ex-girlfriend. The debate is whether or not the university can actually expel him for sending these tweets when they weren’t sent while he was on campus. In my mind, I’m thinking this all could have been avoided if people stopped using social media as their venting station or their personal diary. I have friends and family members to talk to so I never feel like social media is my only outlet. Perhaps this guy wanted her to see his rage though. Who knows but one thing is for sure, he’s in for a fight and it’s not just with his ex; it’s with the largest university in the state of Kansas.
So what’s the solution here — keep quiet from now on with any type of current event topic, ignore the hard-hitting issues for fear of rejection or quickly side with the masses? How about none of the above? Yeah.
Don’t feed into this idea of the spiral of silence. Never lose your voice and certainly don’t let social media deter you from sharing it. We, as consumers, as a public, have MORE of a voice than we’ve ever had before so let’s not lose it. Big companies are listening to us and they are forced to listen to us because they are out there in the social realm with a reputation to uphold as well.
A great example is something pretty much all of us have had issues with at one point or another…I’m talking about airlines. Airline companies have bulked up their social media departments because as you can guess, complaints are “flying” in. (Thank you, I’ll be here all night.) Gone are the days when a company can expect to provide bad customer service and for the public to be left in the dark. Advertisers have known for a long time that the most powerful type of advertising is word of mouth and when consumers are not happy, they talk and they tell everybody. On the flip side, when service is really good, people talk about it too. Chances are you’ve seen a friend talk negatively about a company online and you thought twice about doing business with that company — that’s because word of mouth is stronger than any amount of dollar a company can pay to persuade you to trust them. Social media has helped level the playing field and we should not take a step back. Speak up, speak wisely and speak courageously.
The idea of social media still scares a lot of people but I urge you to just jump in and enjoy yourself. If you keep these simple rules in mind, you’ll be just fine:
- Golden rule: never say something online that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in person.
- Don’t share inappropriate pictures — if you really have the urge, send them to a friend or to yourself. Get it out of your system!
- Admit fault. If you say something without thinking it through and others react, admit fault when you’re wrong and move on.
- Have fun and get involved in online discussions. You might make a new connection or friend and you may even learn something interesting.
- Know when to step away from social media throughout the day. I get it more than most because I’m constantly checking my clients’ social media accounts but you can setup alerts/notifications and step away from it for the rest of the evening. Don’t let it control you.
Overall the same rules that apply in the real world, apply online. If you silence your voice and step away from hard-hitting questions, don’t expect change to happen. If you speak up and say what’s on your mind, you get the conversation started; the only difference is with social media, a lot more people can become exposed to your opinion and join in— that’s the part I thoroughly enjoy.
If you have any questions or want to vent, I’m here! Haha and I’m pretty judgement-free. Get out there, speak up and let’s change the world.