By Melony Roy

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Social media might be the home of free expression and over-sharing, but not when it comes to controversial issues.

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A new study finds social media may discourage free expression, rather than encourage it, when it comes to controversial subjects, even offline.

The survey was conducted by the Pew Research Center in conjunction with Rutgers University, where Keith Hamilton is a communications professor.

“We wanted to know if people were not only more likely to participate in political activity but if they were using online forums to discuss important political issues,” Hamilton said.

The survey found social media does not encourage discussion on controversial subjects. It was conducted among 1,801 U.S. adults, who were asked about their willingness to discuss the Edward Snowden leaks on social media and in person.

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“About 86 percent of Americans say they’d be willing to have a discussion about this issue in person whether it was at a community meeting or over dinner with family but only 42 percent of social media users were willing to have a discussion on this topic online,” Hamilton said.

The effect appears to reach offline with those same friends and family, in what the researchers describe as a “spiral of silence.”

“So if they thought social media users didn’t agree with their opinion they were then less likely to talk to them about politics and this particular issue as well,” Hamilton said.

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