Self- Censorship on Social Media — why? and how?

Recently a study that was conducted by Carnegie Mellon’s Sauvik Das a Ph.D. student and Facebook Data Scientist Adam Kramer revealed that a large population of Facebookers engage in “Last-minute self-censorship” . The research was based on a sample of 3.9 million- over a period of 17 days, one-third or approximately Seventy one percent of all users surveyed engaged in “Self” censorship. This activity occurred either on new posts or in the comment box. Moreover this activity, according to the study occurred in a systematic manner in which users would type in thoughts (five or more characters) and then, re-think their thoughts before hitting the post button (Recently Facebook added the edit option). This tells us that we are more careful and we take responsibility on what we say and how we react to what others are saying on social media. This behavior also reveals that we are somewhat not comfortable with sharing what we really think and feel.

Alarming, mainly because the Facebook post box clearly encourages users to freely share their thoughts with a “What’s on your mind?” text and Twitter goes with “Whats Happening?”. Clearly these messages that we see before we post or tweet is an encouragement and may help to stop what the Das and Kramers’ study define as “self-censorship”: “the act of preventing oneself from speaking”. We may agree that there are undocumented or informal rules on Facebook and other social media platforms but what are the boundaries? I am aware of the fact that some people have lost jobs, some have been convicted, and some relationships have been strained or totally damaged due to social media, but I also believe that we have the right to freely share our thoughts in a conscious and respectable manner. So for the study to reveal that seventy one percent of people are engaging in self-censorship is a bit surprising to me.

I commend Das and Kramer for their efforts and excellent research because I believe that when social media was first introduced to us, most of us did not know how to use it properly. It was more like an empty canvass that we used to collaborate with our friends and family that later evolved and they are still evolving. Content is King on the social platform and we use those platforms to consume content. Therefore, the Das and Kramer study is a very valuable reference that gives us insight of how we approach “Creating” and “sharing” thoughts, information and stories.

The Hypotheses of the study highlights:

  • Posts will be censored more than comments.
  • Men will censor more than women
  • Users with more opposite sex friends will censor more
  • Younger users will self-censor less
  • Users with older friends will censor more
  • Users who more frequently use audience selection tools censor less
  • Users with more diverse friends censor more

I fully agree with this and I also confirm that I engage in such, and before the Das and Kramer study I was completely unaware that I was self censoring. However what I find more interesting is that we are all saying the same things on social media. I believe that social media has been slowing shaping its self since it was introduced, companies that did not define their platforms left a vacuum and the users determined how they would use those platforms. The #hashtag practice is a pure example of how social media users are conforming to what is seen as the norm (in this case — the topic of discussion). More so on twitter than Facebook, twitter allows us to see what people are tweeting about based on their region, but this culture has sip through the membranes and it being used widely across multiple platforms.

How I rationalize the fact that seventy one percent of the sample were engaging in self-censorship is:

·Your region (geographic location) determines your topic (Tweets, posts and updates)

·Your social media friends determine your topic (Tweets, posts and updates)

·Your occupation determines your topic (Tweets, posts and updates)

I recommend that you take some time to read the study, because it reveals great insights as to how we behave online, and next time you find yourself engaging in self-censorship — stop and ask yourself why?

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