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Chaudhry, I., & Gruzd, A. (2019). Expressing and Challenging Racist Discourse on Facebook: How Social Media Weaken the “Spiral of Silence” Theory. Policy & Internet.
This article examines the discursive practices of Facebook users who use the platform to express
racist views. We analyzed 51,991 public comments posted to 119 news stories about race, racism, or
ethnicity on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News Facebook page. We examined whether
users who hold racist viewpoints (the vocal minority) are less likely to express views that go against
the majority view for fear of social isolation. According to the “spiral of silence” theory, the vocal
minority would presumably fear this isolation effect. However, our analysis shows that on Facebook,
a predominantly nonanonymous and moderated platform, the vocal minority are comfortable
expressing unpopular views, questioning the explanatory power of this popular theory in the online
context. Based on automated analysis of 8,636 comments, we found 64 percent mentioned race or
ethnicity, and 18 percent exhibited some form of othering. A manual coding of 1,161 comments
showed that 18 percent exhibited some form of othering, and 25 percent countered the racist
discourse. In sum, while Facebook provides space to express racist discourse, users also turn to this
platform to counter the hateful narratives.