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By: Joseph Jankowski | Planet Free Will.com

A new study has found that the knowledge of widespread government surveillance causes people to self-censor dissenting opinions online.

The study, published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, studied the effects on the speech of its subjects after they had been reminded of government surveillance.

Frighteningly, the majority of participants reacted by suppressing opinions that they perceived to be unpopular.

From the Washington Post:

The “spiral of silence” is a well-researched phenomenon in which people suppress unpopular opinions to fit in and avoid social isolation. It has been looked at in the context of social media and the echo-chamber effect, in which we tailor our opinions to fit the online activity of our Facebook and Twitter friends. But this study adds a new layer by explicitly examining how government surveillance affects self-censorship.

Participants in the study were first surveyed about their political beliefs, personality traits and online activity, to create a psychological profile for each person. A random sample group was then subtly reminded of government surveillance, followed by everyone in the study being shown a neutral, fictional headline stating that U.S. airstrikes had targeted the Islamic State in Iraq. Subjects were then asked a series of questions about their attitudes toward the hypothetical news event, such as how they think most Americans would feel about it and whether they would publicly voice their opinion on the topic. The majority of those primed with surveillance information were less likely to speak out about their more nonconformist ideas, including those assessed as less likely to self-censor based on their psychological profile.

Elizabeth Stoycheff, lead researcher of the study, finds the results very disturbing.

“So many people I’ve talked with say they don’t care about online surveillance because they don’t break any laws and don’t have anything to hide. And I find these rationales deeply troubling,” she told the Washington Post.

According to Stoycheff, it is those who hold the “nothing to hide” belief that are most likely to self-censor.

“The fact that the ‘nothing to hide’ individuals experience a significant chilling effect speaks to how online privacy is much bigger than the mere lawfulness of one’s actions. It’s about a fundamental human right to have control over one’s self-presentation and image, in private, and now, in search histories and metadata,” Stoycheff said.

“It concerns me that surveillance seems to be enabling a culture of self-censorship because it further disenfranchises minority groups. And it is difficult to protect and extend the rights of these vulnerable populations when their voices aren’t part of the discussion. Democracy thrives on a diversity of ideas, and self-censorship starves it,” she continued. “Shifting this discussion so Americans understand that civil liberties are just as fundamental to the country’s long-term well-being as thwarting very rare terrorist attacks is a necessary move.”

What this study shows is that government surveillance is the lubricant covering the slope that leads down to tyranny. Its chilling effect is only going to result in a more rapid depletion of liberty.

If the American people are too afraid to speak their minds, and express what their guts are telling them is right, how can the liberties the Bill of Rights and Constitution seek to protect exist within society?

I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under. – Edward Snowden

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Joseph Jankowski is a contributor for Planet Free Will.com. His works have been published by recognizable alternative news sites like GlobalResearch.ca, ActivistPost.com and Intellihub.com. 

Follow Planet Free Will on Twitter @ twitter.com/PlanetFreeWill

  • GG

    The slippery slope is very slippery..

  • James Stamulis

    Look how both the Obama administration and his government hit teams like IRS, FBI ETC. attacked the Tea Party, Christians and patriots as if they were domestic terrorists and racists while not one of them has committed a crime to date while they put Islam, Black Lies Matter, gay activists all of which have committed numerous crimes on a pedestal.

    • isnamthere

      They put you righties in your place……and should continue to do so.

      • classical liberal

        so did the Nazis.

        • isnamthere

          The Nazis were righties.

          • Sam

            actually they were socialists lefties through and through big govt to control the masses for our ‘betterment’. The point is they could have been ‘righties’. Its not about right or left. Its about rich LEFT AND RIGHT over all of you. Hillary has five mansions and millions. Bernie is a millionaire and so is Cruz and Trump.

            Don’t be fooled into thinking its about right or left.

          • isnamthere

            You are actually wrong. The Nazis were right-wing, nationalists. The “socialist” in their party’s name had little meaning. Please don’t try to re-write history for the sake of your agenda.

          • elf girl
          • isnamthere

            Try reading a book.

      • Sam

        authoritarianism can come from the left or the right. Thats the real enemy extremes from BOTH sides. Obama or Newt etc but people are too much sheep to see it so they ‘join’ one side or the other. The ‘lefties’ want to silence the ‘righties’ and vica versa. Wake up isnathemere you are a tool for them. snowden exposed the FBI etc under OBAMA. it would have been the same under a socalled right govt. The real divide is the ELITE rich against you all whether you are pro gay feminists or traditional tea party Christians etc etc. Snowden exposed what its really about: ELITE deep govt vs ALL OF US.

        • isnamthere

          So the rich elites oppose me and want to control me just like the right-wingers oppose me and want to control me. Got it.

          • Sam

            yes and just like left wingers oppose you and want to control you — now you “got it”

          • Sam

            rich elite left wingers or rich elite right wingers they are the same thing. you think left wingers dont want to control you as much as right wingers? You ever visit the Soviet Union or China? Its the rich elite ‘left’ or ‘right’ against you all

          • Sam

            PS full disclosure My parents are russian and I grew up in Minsk before my family made their way to Canada. Trust me friend left or right its not about that. its about left rich and right rich vs you.

          • David Turco

            You’re getting closer.

          • elf girl

            quote from poster: “So the rich elites oppose me and want to control me just like the right-wingers oppose me and want to control me. Got it.”

            yes the rich elites like Obama the millionaire? last I checked he was a left winger not right wing. I think Sam’s point is that it was under his term that the whole NSA and Snowden thing went down. Obama was a left winger but he still gave the go ahead for people to be spied on and all of that. Obamacare is all about control too.

            I am no right winger but I don’t believe progressive over anybody else either. You obviously do. Good luck with that.

          • David Turco

            Sam, isnamthere works for the NSA or CIA or some other trolling agency. You’re not really supposed to reply to him/it. It just posts to annoy people by twisting the argument in the most vapid way possible.

  • Poke

    I’d like ta make a backdoor fur this stogie up Obammies derriere..

  • KORGG

    I have been under surveillance since the late 80’s. Apparently they don’t like people who want the Constitution returned to its rightful place as the law of the land. They know where I am , and I don’t care if they know I hate their guts. They can try to collect me if they want-it will be a “party”.

    • isnamthere

      Hopefully, it will be a Fincum-themed party.

  • AnotherLover

    Does ANYBODY ELSE finally see the point to op Snowden?

  • DmaxD

    To prevent anudda Whallocost!

  • Badger Badgerism

    OK WATCH THIS: F$CK YOU!

  • Brian

    I always said these rich scumbags have got to go. They’re terrified of justice and ready to do anything to the human race in order to render us incapable of serving it up. Don’t take any vaccines. They’ll be dosed. Oh, and don’t take that chip in your hand either.