Publication Date

2014-12-16

Availability

Open access

Embargo Period

2014-12-16

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Department

Communication Studies (Communication)

Date of Defense

2014-10-24

First Committee Member

Thomas M. Steinfatt

Second Committee Member

Diane Millette

Third Committee Member

Juliana Fernandes

Fourth Committee Member

Shara T. Pavlow

Abstract

This study used a quasi-experimental approach to test an adapted model of Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s (1974) Spiral of Silence theory. Noelle-Neumann’s (1974) concept has been widely studied and applied to a variety of communication situations, mostly using hypothetical scenarios (“train tests”) and face-to-face interactions. The present research applied the Spiral of Silence concept to political opinion expression on the social networking site Facebook. Two groups of participants were assigned to either a hypothetical interaction condition using a “train test” or to a real interaction condition. Participants in the real interaction condition were asked to join a Facebook group, where they were able to observe and participate in a discussion about a specific political issue (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare”). Both groups completed a questionnaire. Key variables were the participants’ fear of social isolation, perceived climate of opinion, and willingness to express an opinion. Additional variables in the present study include attitude strength and the sub-constructs attitude certainty, attitude intensity, and attitude extremity. Also included were the variables subjective issue knowledge, issue interest and issue importance, as well as communication apprehension and willingness to self-censor. Results suggested support for Noelle-Neumann’s (1974) concept, indicating that a Spiral of Silence may not only exist in face-to-face, but possibly also in computer-mediated communication on social networking sites. Fear of social isolation and perceived climate of opinion seemed to be significant predictors of opinion expression on social networking sites for at least one of the conditions, indicating that participants reported to be more likely to discuss their opinions if they experiences less fear of being socially isolated and if they perceived their opinion to be in the majority. Data also suggested support for the additional predictor variables attitude strength, subjective issue knowledge, and issue interest. Participants with higher levels on these variables tended to also report higher levels of willingness to express their opinion on Facebook. Communication apprehension was a significant predictor of opinion expression only in the real interaction condition. Overall, both conditions suggested support for an expanded Spiral of Silence model for political discussion on social networking sites. However, participants in the real interaction condition reported higher fear of social isolation, despite reporting to have higher attitude certainty, intensity, and issue interest.

Keywords

political communication, social media, Facebook, Spiral of Silence, quasi experiment

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