Indexed on: 15 Jun '20Published on: 05 Jun '20Published in: New Media & Society
New Media & Society, Ahead of Print. The novel affordances and unique features on social media have transformed the way people assess public opinion. Drawing on the spiral of silence (SOS) theory, this study examines the roles that user-generated comments (UGCs) and aggregated user representations (AURs), represented by reaction emojis, play in shaping perceptions of the opinion climate. It also investigates how features on the platform trigger perceptions of source credibility to influence willingness to speak out. Results from a 3 (opinion cues: UGCs-only vs AURs-only vs UGCs and AURs) × 2 (opinion climate congruency: congruent vs incongruent) × 2 (source credibility: high vs low) between-subjects experimental design revealed that audiences perceived reaction emojis to reflect public opinion. Source credibility was found to affect willingness to speak out and moderate opinion climate congruency. The findings extend the SOS theory by highlighting the significant role that novel affordances have on SOS components operating online. Implications of the findings were discussed.