“The Silent Majority” is, according to Julia Kirby, a phrase that President Nixon used to describe the people who were not against the Vietnam war, who Nixon believed to be in majority, but were less vocal than the anti-war protesters. And during the 2016 presidential election, then Republican candidate Donald Trump claimed that he would win the election, despite the polls saying the opposite. Trump justified his claim by referring to the silent majority – claiming that there were far more Trump-voters than what the polls suggested.
The idea behind the silent majority is simple: the most vocal are not necessarily the majority. Kelly McNamara writes about the 90-9-1-rule about online communities, which states that 90% tend to be engaged but less vocal, 9% tends to be more vocal by commenting and sharing, and 1% tend to be the most vocal by creating new content. While the numbers may not be exactly 90, 9 and 1, the idea is simply that most engaged people don’t contribute. These are often referred to as lurkers.
Whether you call them the silent majority or lurkers, I can’t help thinking that someone is making a big deal about something that is actually quite simple: not everyone has a desire to expose themselves by contributing online, and we can’t know what everyone is thinking about something. The silent majority is not some organized, underground revolutionary force. It’s a statistical blind spot. It’s not knowing everything about everyone (thankfully).
Of course it’s interesting to look into why some people don’t wish to contribute much online. And it’s interesting to ask: how would things look if they did? If the internet is to be a democratic tool, then everyone should have the same opportunities to contribute. So if lurkers are not contributing because of some external factors such as fear of internet trolling or low digital literacy, then that is a problem. And it should be addressed.