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The alternatives to being silent: exploring opinion expression avoidance strategies for discussing politics on Facebook

Tai-Yee Wu (Institute of Communication Studies, National Chiao Tung University, Hsinchu, Taiwan)
Xiaowen Xu (Department of Strategic Communication, College of Communication, Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA)
David Atkin (Department of Communication, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, USA)

Internet Research

ISSN: 1066-2243

Article publication date: 3 July 2020

Issue publication date: 24 October 2020

Abstract

Purpose

This study integrates the spiral of silence (SoS) theory and theory of planned behavior (TPB) by examining Facebook users' opinion expression avoidance, the reactions to dissenting views without revealing one's true opinion, in the context of political discussions. The present integrative approach provides a more comprehensive framework that expands our understanding of online opinion expression and withdrawal.

Design/methodology/approach

A cross-sectional online survey was employed, which rendered 348 valid responses from US college students (61.5% female; average age 19.11) recruited from a northeastern university.

Findings

The results categorized two sets of opinion avoidance strategies from six Facebook features. The intention to adopt “proactive avoidance strategies” (filtering out unwanted information) is positively related to descriptive norms and perceived self-efficacy, but negatively related to fear of isolation and perceived control of the urge to debate. Regarding the intention to employ “reactive avoidance strategies” (less obtrusive articulations), fear of isolation and attitudes toward opinion expression avoidance are positive determinants, whereas perceived control of the urge to debate again exerts a negative influence.

Originality/value

This study examines the growing variety of features that users adopt to avoid expressing their true opinion in reacting to dissenting views, updating our understanding of opinion circumvention in social media environment. As one of the few theoretically driven empirical investigations of SoS theory and TPB, the findings not only elucidate the significance of perceived behavioral control as the common ground in association with user adoption intention but also identify distinct qualities of the two sets of strategies that affect the likelihood of adoption. That is, proactive avoidance is more susceptible to normative influences, while reactive avoidance reflects user attitude and belief. This theoretical integration also helps identify diverse levels of intentions to strategically avoid opinion expression influenced by fear of isolation.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

A preliminary version of this work was presented at the 2018 annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), Washington, D.C. The authors wish to thank the anonymous journal reviewers for providing valuable feedback, which substantially improved the theoretical and methodological aspects of this paper.

Citation

Wu, T.-Y., Xu, X. and Atkin, D. (2020), "The alternatives to being silent: exploring opinion expression avoidance strategies for discussing politics on Facebook", Internet Research, Vol. 30 No. 6, pp. 1709-1729. https://doi.org/10.1108/INTR-06-2018-0284

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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