Spiral of Silence Expanded in Malaysian Airlines Case

After the recent claim by Malaysian leadership that Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 allegedly crashed into the Indian Ocean, almost all of the families involved, along with the majority of Chinese residents, are blaming the leadership on how they handled every aspect of the disappearance. News reports from CNN, CBC News, and others are discussing the backlash and anger from the country of China, including their government, families involved, and residents who had nothing to do with the disappearance of the plane.

This case is interesting because it is displaying two different scenarios of what Lyons (2005) called the Spiral of Silence Theory. Within this theory, individuals will only publicly state their opinion if they believe that the majority of the public are going to agree with their opinion. On the other hand, they will stay silent if they believe that others will criticize or attack them for their perspective. In this particular case, one scenario is that residents are not going to publicly defend Malaysian Airlines or question the claims by residents who have families missing. It is understandable for individuals to feel concerned about sharing a differing opinion because we are dealing with the possible death of a large number of Chinese residents as well as residents from other countries. Therefore, we are not going to hear many arguments against the heated and emotional statements by the Chinese government and individuals who were personally affected by the disappearance.

However, there is also a different scenario that plays out in this case and it is the influence that social media plays on spreading the Spiral of Silence throughout the entire globe. These communication channels give all residents a voice to make statements and claims to strengthen the “popular” opinion against Malaysian Airlines and the Malaysian government. It gives individuals who are not personally invested in the story an opportunity to make a statement that others will find credible. The individual may not be personally invested because they either don’t live in China or Malaysia or don’t know any of the details.

Social media also gives anyone an outlet to shed light and negatively harm any individual who might come to the defense of Malaysian Airlines and how they handled the situation. For example, individuals can “out” this person throughout various channels (i.e., Facebook, YouTube, news outlets) and others will jump in to attack him/her. This will cause fear in other individuals who might want to step up in defense but are scared of personal and public attacks by others. Therefore, the Spiral of Silence would spread from the communities affected to every side of the globe due to the extremely public shame that comes along with having a different opinion than the majority.

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