The spiral of silence need not be instigated by an oppressive government determined to quash dissent.
Rather, it can arise spontaneously when the social norms governing interpersonal interactions provide insufficient support for those who are in the minority—either in the country as a whole, or in some local context—to feel comfortable expressing their views.
That is why high levels of self-censorship should be treated as an ominous warning sign.
They signal the development of a culture of orthodoxy that is animated by a false sense of certainty about what is true and what is false—and a proud intolerance of those who might dare to voice an opinion that conflicts with the mainstream.
The sobering results of our survey suggest that this accurately describes today’s United States.