Stoycheff (2016). Under Surveillance: Examining Facebook’s Spiral of Silence Effects in the Wake of NSA Internet Monitoring.

Stoycheff, E. (2016). Under Surveillance: Examining Facebook’s Spiral of Silence Effects in the Wake of NSA Internet Monitoring. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 93(2), 296–311.

“… spiral of silence scholarship in online environments by examining how perceptions of government surveillance may influence the relationship between one’s perceived climate of opinion and willingness to express minority views. Using a subtle priming manipulation embedded in an Internet survey, this study is one of the first to reveal the potential silencing effects attributable to online surveillance. … it shows that knowing one’s online activities are subject to government interception and believing these surveillance practices are necessary for national security play important roles in influencing conformist behavior.” (p 297)

“A 2014 Pew Research survey reported that 86% of respondents were willing to discuss the Snowden PRISM leak in offline settings (a public meeting, family dinner, restaurant with friends), but less than half of those would post about it on Facebook or Twitter.” (p 299)

“But Solove (2007) contends that individuals’ fundamental need for privacy is not necessarily grounded in concealing wrongdoing, but rather in ‘concealing information about themselves that others might use to their disadvantage’ (p. 751). Understood this way, nearly everyone has something to hide.” (p 300)

“Priming is a psychological process that relies on a ‘memory-based’ model of opinion formation to explain how messages can activate certain mental constructs that are readily available in short-term memory and oversampled when individuals need to form judgments (Domke, Shah, & Wackman, 1998; Hastie & Park, 1986; Iyengar & Kinder, 1987).” (p 300)

[Ethics? Does exposing participants without such warning constitute an ethical breach? –oki …]

“The remainder of participants encountered no message.” (p 302)

“For the remainder — and majority — of participants, being primed of government surveillance significantly reduced the likelihood of speaking out in hostile opinion climates. … Csikszentmihalyi (1991) argues that social isolation is a minimal concern compared to material sanctions that government is capable of enacting, like losing one’s job or instigating legal consequences.” (p 307)

“… those holding the dominant opinion eagerly volunteered their ideas [page break] … but the ‘nothing to hide’ group seemed to experience some degree of dissonance when their views were in the minority, as they were inclined to ‘hide’ them.” (p 307-308)

Selected References

  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991). Reflections on the “spiral of silence.” Communication Yearbook, 14, 288-297.
  • Domke, D., Shah, D. V., & Wackman, D. B. (1998). Media priming effects: Accessibility, association, and activation. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 10, 51-74.
  • Hastie, R., & Park, B. (1986). The relationship between memory and judgment depends on whether the judgment task is memory-based or on-line. Psychological Review, 93, 258-268. doi:10.1037//0033-295X.93.3.258
  • Iyengar, S., & Kinder, D. (1987). News that matters: Television and American opinion. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Noelle-Neumann, E. (1974). The spiral of silence a theory of public opinion. Journal of Communication, 24(2), 43-51.
  • Pew Research Center. (2014, October 2). From ISIS to unemployment: What do Americans know? Retrieved from
  • Solove, D. J. (2007). “I’ve got nothing to hide” and other misunderstandings of privacy. San Diego Law Review, 44, 745-772.


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