The theoretical approach I will be looking at in this essay will be the Spiral of Silence, alongside this will be references from Porten-Cheé and Eilders’ Spiral of silence online which is included in the journal Studies in Communication Sciences. The article explores the affect of online communication on opinion climate perception and opinion expression regarding climate change, other readings will be referenced but this article will be my main focus. Spiral of silence has the ability to affect how we as both individuals and a society communicate with one another, for some people it means they are often to scared to voice their own opinions and never feeling as if they can open up to people out of fear of isolation.
This theory is relevant to the study of Media and Communication through bias in newspapers and propaganda. North Korea would be a good example of this due to Kim Jong-un spreading propaganda, which is then filtered through the media in North Korea. Citizens then don’t dare to challenge this out of fear of what might happen to them if people found out what they truly thought. This example also shows the manipulation of thought as citizens are being manipulated into believing that what he says is true, as the government has blocked them from accessing western media. Another example of how it is relevant to Media and Communication is through social networking sites. When using Facebook, individuals are more likely to be friends with people they are close to and who share the same views as them, this limits the information they receive fuelling their set political views. However, Facebook can also align with the effects of cross-cutting networks as people can also have acquaintances as friends on Facebook who may have different opinions to them increasing their chances of being exposed to cross-cutting beliefs and perspectives (Jang SM, Lee H, Jin PY (2014) cited in (Kim, 2016)).
An issue it proposes is that we fear social isolation, therefore individuals will only publicly speak out if they believe they are in the present or future majority opinion on an issue (Noelle-Neumann (1974) cited in Porten-Cheé and Eilders (2015)). This social isolation makes us fear that if we speak out against a popular opinion that we will become ostracised or shunned by society, this is very true of the situation in North Korea. The threat of prison and even death for speaking out against the dictatorship, and therefore being made an example of is enough to silence the masses from speaking out. However we are in a very fortunate position to consume both the positive and negative spins on events in the news and mass media. This allows each individual to form a unique opinion, and allows discussion among groups. We still see the effects of social isolation, as many people will believe many different things and therefore some will be in the minority. Those with extreme opinions on both sides of the spectrum will often feel apprehensive about voicing their support for a topic, for fear of being ostracised by their peers. A solution to this is how individuals can post opinions online anonymously on certain social networking sites, which I will talk about later in more depth. This solution can be helpful yet problematic purely because it allows people to say whatever they want.
A big weakness of the Spiral of Silence is its weak empirical support; this is due to the silencing effect being explained by other plausible factors such as ignorance or the opinions of peer groups (Fields & Schuman, 1976; Glynn & Park, 1997; Oshagan, 1996; Taylor, 1982). On the other hand, having the option to express opinions anonymously is one of the strengths of Spiral of Silence as it means that individuals may express their opinions without using their real names or having to risk the social consequences their unpopular opinion may have (Porten-Cheé and Eilders 2015). However, this anonymity can also have its downsides due to people abusing it and using it as a tool to spread hatred and misinformation, an example of this would be how anyone can make a Twitter account and no one actually knows who it is, there have been cases where people have cyber bullied people they know or are even friends with in real life through a fake account just because they were anonymous. This opens up the topic to issues of morality as it is up to each person to decide how they will use this power.
The spiral of silence has many applications to mass media in today’s society, as a combination of many factors ranging from ignorance to control of media can influence the opinion climate. The theory of the spiral of silence is as relevant today as it has ever been, as more and more we are seeing politics and argument on all platforms available. We are now able to consume media in all forms whether it be online or in a physical medium i.e. newspapers and magazines. As it is now so readily available we are able to form opinions based on hundreds of others, but this is where the spiral of silence comes in. with so many opinions about many people will not want to know, through ignorance, and many will not want to share for fear of being ostracised.
The social media influencer I’ve chosen to look at is Markiplier, real name Mark Fischbach, he is a YouTuber with over 19 million subscribers. My reason for finding Mark so interesting is that instead of using his power over his subscribers or ‘fans’ to manipulate them into giving him more money through merchandise sales, he encourages them to donate to charity by frequently hosting charity streams and selling charity shirts. This passion for charity work has, for me, made him worth following as it helps to bring attention to smaller charities such as Doctors Without Borders and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Another reason I find him interesting is how open he is about his passions and struggles, being so open about things he’s passionate about such as music and comedy has meant that he can incorporate both of these into videos and help to inspire his fans to work hard on what they’re passionate about. His influence on his subscribers has meant that when he talks about struggles like depression, loneliness or grief, it often means that the topic gets discussed in the comments section allowing people to convey their own struggles and be able to relate to others in their situation.
His charity work also makes him stand out from other social media influencers who only get involved in charity work to boost their social standing and to become more appealing to potential fans. His versatility video-wise also makes him stand out from other YouTubers as he doesn’t stick to one genre of video, often switching from gaming videos to vlogs and then to comedy sketches. Through these changes, the editing style never gets disrupted which helps the audience to feel as if it’s less of a sudden change. Another way in which he makes himself stand out is through the in-jokes and characters he creates with his audience such as Tiny Box Tim. In a way this creates a snowball affect as people become curious as to who Tiny Box Tim is and why people mention him so much. This curiosity causes them to search for the videos he is referenced in which then leads to them watching a few episodes or a whole series of a game, snowballing into them possibly subscribing to his channel.
One reason behind Mark’s commercial success is through his association with well-known games such as Five Nights at Freddy’s, often referring to himself as “The King of Five Nights at Freddy’s”. This association has led to collaborations with other YouTubers and being referred to in other videos, which has caused increased traffic on his channel. His popularity on social media has been helped by how he interacts with his subscribers on other platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, this is done by simply replying to their tweets or making them feel involved by asking them to submit content for a future video. This practice is not very common for him so when he does this he involves as many people as he can, by interacting on such a large scale he generates more popularity and ensures he always has a media presence. Going back to the previous point made about how he doesn’t force his merchandise on people, he often only promotes charity merchandise. By only promoting the charity merchandise this shows him as very humble, and generates money for good causes. However whilst on the website to buy the charity merchandise, a fan may be compelled to buy a normal T-shirt thus generating income for him.
Another factor behind his popularity on social media would be how he likes to keep his subscribers updated on what is going on in his life, be it by posting pictures of his dog on Instagram or tweeting funny stories of recent events on Twitter. He also makes sure to integrate all of his social media accounts, which is extremely important as it helps to ensure that no fan feels left out, say if they follow him on Facebook but do not have a Twitter account. This can help to make fans feel included as a lot of YouTubers focus on one or two of their social media accounts but forget that some of their audience may not have access to these sites. His commercial success can also be put down to his personality and likeability, this translates to high revenue on YouTube as companies don’t feel as if they should pull their adverts from his videos unlike what has happened to other YouTubers over the past year, often referred to as the ‘Adpocolypse’ where advertisers would block their adverts from being placed in videos they thought were inappropriate.
As a whole, I believe that Mark is very aware of what his brand is and who his audience is, through this he has learnt what areas he should promote in order to grow. This doesn’t come from a place of wanting more money and this is shown in his more heartfelt videos where he shows just how much he loves making YouTube videos and would continue to make them even if it meant that he didn’t make any money from them and had to go back to a ‘normal’ full time job. He is overall a very intelligent when it comes to himself as a business and has mastered building a brand using a combination of social media, YouTube and live events. I feel that Mark is a very wise media influencer as he has achieved success by just being himself, this is what makes him so popular; his genuine nature, kind heart and passion for good causes such as charity.