Paranoid much? Americans are now self-censoring online after Snowden's NSA revelations

Paranoid much? Americans are now self-censoring online after Snowden's NSA revelations

The effects of Edward Snowden's revelations about the activities of the NSA continue to be felt. Internet users are now familiar with the idea that what they do online is possibly (probably?) being monitored in one way or another. Some users have taken to the likes of Tor in a bid to increase security and anonymity, but there has also been a more interesting side-effect. Figures released by "nonpartisan fact tank" the Pew Research Center suggests that a "spiral of silence" has developed as Americans start to censor themselves online.

The research group conducted a survey of more than 1,800 people in the middle of last year and found that while most people (86 percent) were quite happy to talk about state surveillance in person, less than half (41 percent) were willing to do so on Twitter (itself involved in censorship). This self-censorship is an interesting repercussion of the NSA's activities, and it seems that social network users have been hardest hit:

"The typical Facebook user is half as likely to be willing to have a discussion about the Snowden-NSA issues at a physical public meeting as a non-Facebook user. Similarly, the typical Twitter user is 0.24 times less likely to be willing to share their opinions in the workplace as an internet user who does not use Twitter".

Pew Research Center's study followed previous work which revealed that 44 percent of people say the release of classified information harms the public interest while 49 percent feel it serves the public interest. There are several possible reasons for people's reluctance to discuss surveillance-related subjects online. The first, obviously, is a fear of surveillance or of drawing attention to oneself. But research has also found that people are less likely to share their view or engage in discussions if they feel their audience holds a differing opinion. The often faceless discussions that take place online can make it difficult to judge how a particular opinion will be received, and this could be enough to lead to self-censorship.

Have Snowden's revelations caused you to temper your online discussion, or have you just carried on regardless?

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