Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Social Media and the Spiral of Silence: The Case of Kuwaiti Female Students' Political Discourse on Twitter

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Social Media and the Spiral of Silence: The Case of Kuwaiti Female Students' Political Discourse on Twitter

Article excerpt

Introduction

The theory first expounded in the Spiral of Silence by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (1984) suggests that people remain silent and do not exchange their views face-to-face against the majority view for fear of being isolated. Thus, when the majority view dominates the public sphere, the minority view becomes more difficult to encounter. However, with the proliferation of social networks and anonymous online spaces, millions of people moved to cyberspace to became online users, and more and more men and women share their ideas online regardless of whether they are a minority, so long as their identities are concealed (Campbell & Howie, 2014).

In many Arab states women are categorized as a minority and still fight to gain their social, economic and political rights. The constitution does recognize women's rights in many Arab states, but due to other factors, such as tradition, culture and religion, those rights have not been fully recognized in practice. Kuwait is one of the Arab states that recognized women's equality in the constitution and recently gave more political rights to women than other Arab countries. Women became more active in politics and have been appointed to posts that were not open years ago, such being a minister or a member of parliament. External factors including religion, culture, tradition and education were barriers for other women to take part in face-to-face political discourse. These factors may influence women to avoid face-to-face communication for fear of being isolated or negative outcomes from family, friends or society. Social networks have helped women raise their voices while reducing offline obstacles that prevent women from participating in political discussions.

Kuwait is one of the Arab states where women were not given full political rights for years. Only in 2006 did they gain the right to run and vote for the National Assembly. Kuwait is a pioneering nation in providing a speedy Internet for the public, including women, and in the top four in the Arab states for Internet penetration after Bahrain, UAE and Oman (GO-Gulf.com, 2013a). In the Arab region, 88% of the Middle East use social networks (65% men and 35% women) and 68% of the users are between the age of 18 to 34 (GO-Gulf.com, 2013b). Facebook remains the most popular social network program used in the Arab world with 54,552,875 members, of whom 33.4% are female, in the Gulf region. Kuwait comes third after UAE and Qatar (Arab Social Media Report, 2013). In March 2013, the estimated number of active Twitter users in the Arab world reached 3,766,160, and Kuwait comes fourth after Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and UAE for the number of active Twitter users with 225,000. Kuwait leads with the highest number of tweets as of March 2013, sending 6.7% of tweets in the Arab region (Arab Social Media Report, 2013).

New technology provides women with the tools to strengthen their political participation and positively position themselves in society, especially among young women's political activities (Schuster, 2013). This paper tests the theory of the spiral of silence in relation to Twitter and women's political participation. The main hypothesis of this research paper is that women may not be willing to share their views offline (face-to-face), but they do share them online through the use of social networks such as Twitter.

Spiral of Silence

In order to explain how public opinion is formed, Noelle-Neumann (1973; 1977, 1984) proposed the theory of the spiral of silence based on two assumptions: 1) people have the tendency to sense the majority view of public opinion "quasi-statistically" and 2) knowing that being in a minority may lead to behavior of isolation, they adjust their behavior with respect to public opinion. This adjustment behavior is either to share in the majority view openly, or to remain silent and appear to agree with the majority, when in reality they do not (Crandall & Ayres, 2002). …

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