by Joseph Jankowski
March 28, 2016
Joseph Jankowski is
a contributor for
His works have been
published by recognizable alternative news sites like
GlobalResearch.ca, ActivistPost.com and Intellihub.com.
A new study has found that the knowledge of widespread government
surveillance causes people to self-censor dissenting opinions
The study (Under
Surveillance - Examining Facebook's Spiral of Silence Effects in the
Wake of NSA Internet Monitoring), published in
Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, studied the effects
on the speech of its subjects after they had been reminded of
Frighteningly, the majority of participants reacted by suppressing
opinions that they perceived to be unpopular.
of silence" is a well-researched phenomenon in which
people suppress unpopular opinions to fit in and avoid social
It has been looked at in the context
social media and the
echo-chamber effect, in which we tailor our opinions to fit the
online activity of our
Facebook and Twitter friends.
But this study adds a new layer by
explicitly examining how government surveillance affects
Participants in the study were first surveyed about their
political beliefs, personality traits and online activity, to
create a psychological profile for each person.
A random sample group was then
subtly reminded of government surveillance, followed by everyone
in the study being shown a neutral, fictional headline stating
that U.S. airstrikes had targeted the Islamic State in Iraq.
Subjects were then asked a series of
questions about their attitudes toward the hypothetical news
event, such as how they think most Americans would feel about it
and whether they would publicly voice their opinion on the
The majority of those primed with
surveillance information were less likely to speak out about
their more nonconformist ideas, including those assessed as less
likely to self-censor based on their psychological profile.
Elizabeth Stoycheff, lead
researcher of the study, finds the results very disturbing.
"So many people I've talked with say
they don't care about online surveillance because they don't
break any laws and don't have anything to hide. And I find these
rationales deeply troubling," she told the Washington Post.
According to Stoycheff, it is those who
hold the "nothing to hide" belief that are most likely to
"The fact that the 'nothing to hide'
individuals experience a significant chilling effect speaks to
how online privacy is much bigger than the mere lawfulness of
It's about a fundamental human right
to have control over one's self-presentation and image, in
private, and now, in search histories and metadata," Stoycheff
"It concerns me that surveillance seems to be enabling a culture
of self-censorship because it further disenfranchises minority
groups. And it is difficult to protect and extend the rights of
these vulnerable populations when their voices aren't part of
the discussion. Democracy thrives on a diversity of ideas, and
self-censorship starves it," she continued.
"Shifting this discussion so
Americans understand that civil liberties are just as
fundamental to the country's long-term well-being as thwarting
very rare terrorist attacks is a necessary move."
What this study shows is that
government surveillance is the lubricant covering the slope that
leads down to tyranny.
Its chilling effect is only going to
result in a more rapid depletion of liberty.
If the American people are too afraid to speak their minds, and
express what their guts are telling them is right, how can the
liberties the Bill of Rights and Constitution seek to protect exist
I do not want to live in
where everything I do and say
That is not something
I am willing to support
or live under.