Christoph Lutz presented a study at the DGPUK Conference in Jena about young Facebook users in Germany and their online political engagement. The conference was held on the 16th February, 2017.
The paper, co-authored with Christian Pieter Hoffmann of the University of Leipzig, applies the spiral of silence theory and tests it with data from an online survey with almost 1000 Facebook users in Germany, aged 18-30. The spiral of silence theory was developed in the context of mass media in the 1970ies. It says that individuals censor themselves (i.e., they do not speak their minds) if they feel their opinion on a controversial topic, such as immigration, is the minority opinion.
Christoph and Christian confirmed the theory for social media. They included users’ network heterogeneity, i.e., whether the respondents’ Facebook friends are politically homogeneous (most of their Facebook friends have the same political stance) or heterogeneous (the political attitudes of their Facebook friends vary widely).
The analysis showed that Facebook users with a heterogeneous network think that their opinion is the minority opinion more often, which leads to a lowered willingness to speak out on controversial political topics. The findings point to important dynamics of self-censorship on social media, a topic heatedly debated around the recent US elections, with filter bubbles, and echo chambers.