by Rhianna Comito
Social media is a great place for people to share their thoughts, feelings and opinions about everyday life. Platforms like Twitter make it easy for people to connect on larger social issues and create communities around them. When people start to share their opinion and discourses are created, usually a dominant opinion is pervasive in mass media. This dominant opinion, when it is recognized, gets reinforced by people who confidently speak out about it. When people have an opinion that is not in the majority, they tend to feel like they can’t speak out in fear of isolation. This theory is called the spiral of silence.
With this theory there are exceptions. Not everyone remains silent. Either a person does not care about isolation/other repercussions or they do not feel as if their opinion is in the minority.
What happens when people do feel like they can speak out? Depending on the topic of discussion, different outcomes can occur. On one hand, people can be fired for unpopular political opinions. For example, an Ohio woman, Patricia Kunkle, filed a lawsuit against her employer for firing her because she voted for Obama. In this case, Obama may not be an unpopular vote in most spaces, but in her work space it was.
However, really great things can come from talking about ideas that no one else is expressing. New communities can be formed and representation can be found.
Reddit is a social medium that allows its users to be anonymous. Anonymity on Reddit creates a space where social repercussions are less of a threat and encourages representation of minority viewpoints.
An example of a minority community on Reddit is the transgender health community. Trans health is not a hot topic that pops up on Twitter, and if it does pop up, it is not a helpful and supportive discussion. Opening up this discussion, even when others are not talking about it, allows people to find, afford and discuss the help they need.
Although speaking out is hard, it can also be an important step for people to feel understood and welcomed. People need to begin to express what they perceive to be minority opinions because there are most likely other people who agree with it but feel afraid to be the first to speak up.
Creating this community can create positive social change. If people never spoke up about gender and racial inequality, little or no change would have ever occurred.
It can be hard to speak out for yourself, so speak out for change and community.
by Rhianna Comito (Twitter: @rhiannacomito)