This is going to shock a lot of you who spend a significant portion of your day arguing about politics and current events on Facebook and Twitter, but you’re a minority. Most people on social media don’t like sharing their own opinions. Particularly when it comes to hot button issues.
A study released by the Pew Internet Research Project found that users of Facebook and Twitter were about half as likely to discuss a controversial topic on social media than in a public setting like a dinner or when out with friends.
Participants were asked how likely they would be to discuss the NSA/Edward Snowden controversy is various settings. The study found that only 16% of those surveyed said they would be “very willing” to discuss their views on Snowden on Facebook.
In stark contrast to that finding, 40% said they would be “very willing” to discuss issues surrounding the NSA surveillance program at the dinner table.
Even the workplace topped social media as a place to air out political difference with 27% saying they would be comfortable talking about the controversial topic at work.
Only 14% said they would be “very willing” to discuss the topic on Twitter.
The study also found that regular users of Facebook and Twitter are less likely to discuss a controversial topic in general, be it online or in public, than those who rarely log into the big social networks.
This result may come as a surprise to those of us who frequently engage in political debates online. It’s often easier to formulate your thoughts while typing them out and having the benefit of a delete button. Additionally, no matter how loud one types, an online argument can never devolve into a screaming match. Regardless, people are still more likely to remain silent online than in person.
Keith Hampton, a communications professor at Rutgers University who helped conduct the study believes that people may be more afraid of offending online contacts who they don’t know as well, than close acquaintances who they see and talk to on a regular basis.
“Because they use social media, they may know more about the depth of disagreement over the issue in their wide circle of contacts,” he said. “This might make them hesitant to speak up either online or offline for fear of starting an argument, offending or even losing a friend.”
The survey questioned 1,801 adults and was conducted shortly after it was exposed that Edward Snowden had leaked classified documents concerning the NSA to the media.