Content Marketing Blog

Majority of social media users steer clear of controversial topics

With all the selfies, food pics and heated political debates you stumble across everyday on social media, you would think it safe to assume people feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts online than they do in-person.

But a new study has revealed the majority shy away from sharing their opinions on social networking sites, especially when the topics are controversial.

A recent study by Pew Internet Research and Rutgers University interviewed 1,801 adults in the US about the controversial Edward Snowden case.

But why Edward Snowden?

The American whistleblower hit headlines last year for exposing the NSA for hacking people’s personal online accounts.

More importantly, Snowden divided popular opinion, with 44 per cent of the American public believing it to be a breach of personal privacy, according to the study, while 49 per cent agreed it was in the country’s best interests.

Despite these strong opinions, the study revealed that while 86 per cent of Americans were willing to discuss the topic in-person, only 42 per cent said they would express their thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.

The spiral of silence

Most people are only willing to share their opinions on social media if they believe the majority would agree with it, the study found.

This notion is called ‘the spiral of silence’ – a theory that people will not voice their opinion publicly if they believe they are in the minority.

In fact, the study found regular Facebook and Twitter users are less likely to share their opinions in general, compared to those who don’t use the site frequently.

“Because they use social media, they may know more about the depth of disagreement over the issue in their wide circle of contacts.” said director of Internet science and technology research at the Pew Research Center Lee Rainie.

“This might make them hesitant to speak up either online or offline for fear of starting an argument, offending or even losing a friend.”

Of course, there is also the possibility that people are skeptical about sharing their thoughts online with government entities spying on them.

According to eMarketer, 66 per cent of US online consumers are concerned about their privacy on social networks (although only 12 per cent of this group were under the age of 35).

How can brands break the ice?

If you know your target audience like the back of your hand, then getting in on controversial topics could be a great way to attract the attention of online consumers, provided that you and your brand actually believe in it, of course.

Try incorporating topics in your content strategy that you know your target audience agrees with, but might not necessarily express their opinions about online, such as your thoughts on global warming or relationships.

Although these topics may not receive as many shares as your other content, it could help your brand stand out amongst the crowd and win you some loyal followers.

Posted by Dylan Brown

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