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Exploiting the Spiral of Opportunity: Interactive Media & the Framing of Policy Debates

Open Panel

Abstract

The spiral of silence (Noelle-Neumann, 1984) has been a staple of the political communication literature for more than 25 years. Miller and Riechert (2003) propose a dynamic potentially contradicting the spiral of silence, calling their alternative the “spiral of opportunity.” They argue the spiral of opportunity is “driven by positive motivations to effect change… rather than negative emotions to avoid social isolation.” To the knowledge of this author, however, Miller and Riechert’s alternative has not been applied to the modern media ecosystem where Bruns (2009) has suggested increased levels of interactivity can lead to the diminution of feelings of isolation. This paper attempts to make that connection, considering the spiral of opportunity in the context of issue-attention cycles, a concept proposed by Downs (1972) to explain how certain issues gain traction in mass media. Suggesting the rise of online social interactive media may render many of the assumptions of the spiral of silence irrelevant, this paper proposes application of Miller and Riechert’s spiral of opportunity to explain the emergence of user-generated frames in contemporary political issue-attention cycles. An important addition to the spiral of opportunity dynamic is the author’s further application of Bruns’ “gatewatching” (2005) terminology describing the actions of those who introduce topics and frames into public discussion, thereby disturbing established political and media routines and potentially disrupting the issue-attention cycle itself.