How the Spiral of Science Affects Global Opinion
Professor Sohn Dong-young (Department of Media & Communication)
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Professor Sohn Dong-young of the Department of Media & Communication is an expert in the field of Computational Social Science, Social Network and Collective Action, Media Psychology, and Persuasive Communication. He also actively introduces his papers in academic journals including the Journal of Communication, New Media & Society, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Journal of Advertising, and Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. This week, News H met with Sohn to discuss about his recent paper, “Collective Dynamics of the Spiral of Silence: the Role of Ego-Network Size”, which explains how the local spiral of silence phenomenon can influence global opinion, and how the social media affect people’s formation of opinion.
In the past when internet connection hadn't been well-established, groups of people with various opinions couldn't be conjoined. However, thanks to the Internet, people can now freely share their opinions with one another through various media platforms like social networking sites (SNS). “This paper mainly explains how more networking formed between individuals increases the possibilities of a phenomenon called ‘the spiral of silence’,” said Sohn.
According to 'spiral of silence’ theory, which is used as a major explanatory mechanism in the field of public opinion, an individual is less likely to assert one’s opinion if one is aware of the fact that that opinion is non-mainstream. “To give an example, let’s assume that more people in a certain region think abortion should be deemed illegal, and such opinion is more publicly accepted and widespread. This leads another group of people, who think it should be legal, hesitate to express their thoughts out loud. It is due to the fear that one could be isolated from the rest of the society," said Sohn. What Sohn researched on is how this well-known theory can be proved to exist in a certain environment.
Sohn used computer simulations to test and prove his theories. “We made a computer simulation program composed of 1000 people. We set the program on each individual to increase the credibility on others' opinions, and we found out that an individual gives more credit to opinions that are more popular and supported.
"On the other hand, opinions from minorities received much less credits from an individual,” Sohn explained. The program also widened the scope of the networking environment for each individual in order to see when one would be more willing to raise their voice. “After the examination, we found that the spiral of silence phenomenon occurs differently according to the size of a network each individual is in."
When an individual is within a small-sized network, having a lesser chance to acknowledge others’ opinions, that person cannot tell if his or her opinion is that of the mass or of the minority. Opinions will consequently be polarized. But as the scope of a network grows, the individual has the chance to see and hear opinions of others better, being able to self-check which side they belong to. This directly leads to the spiral of silence phenomenon.
“While social science research has a rather big gap formed between theories and practical research, I believe we can develop more sophisticated theories with computer simulations. This will further shorten the distance between speculative research and practical data, allowing research like mine become more useful in our society,” posited Sohn.
Yun Ji-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Choi Min-ju
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