WASHINGTON (AP) — People on Facebook and Twitter say they are less likely to share their opinions on hot-button issues, even when they are offline, according to a surprising new survey by the Pew Research Center.
The study, done in conjunction with Rutgers University in New Jersey, challenges the view of social media as a vehicle for debate by suggesting that sites like Facebook and Twitter might actually encourage self-censorship. Researchers said they detect what they call the "spiral of silence" phenomenon: Unless people know their audience agrees, they are likely to shy away from discussing anything controversial.
In other words, most of us are more comfortable with ice-bucket challenges than political banter.
"People do not tend to be using social media for this type of important political discussion. And if anything, it may actually be removing conversation from the public sphere," said Keith Hampton, a communications professor at Rutgers University who helped conduct the study.
The survey was conducted shortly after Edward Snowden acknowledged leaking classified intelligence that exposed widespread government surveillance of Americans' phone and email records. Hampton said the Snowden case provided researchers with a concrete example of a major national issue that divided Americans and dominated news coverage.
Of the 1,801 adults surveyed, 86 percent they would be willing to discuss their views about government surveillance if it came up at various in-person scenarios, such as at a public meeting, at work or at a restaurant with friends. But just 42 percent of Facebook or Twitter users said they would be willing to post online about it.
What's more, the typical Facebook user — someone who logs onto the site a few times per day — was actually half as likely to discuss the Snowden case at a public meeting as a non-Facebook user. Someone who goes on Twitter a few times per day was one-quarter as likely to share opinions in the workplace compared with those who never use Twitter.
Only when a person felt that their Facebook network agreed with their opinion were they twice as likely to join a site discussion on the issue, the survey found.
Another finding was that social media didn't make it easier for people to share opinions they wouldn't otherwise share. Of the 14 percent of Americans unwilling to discuss the Snowden case with others in person, fewer than one-half of 1 percent were willing to discuss it on social media.
Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center Internet Project, said it's possible that social media actually sensitize people to different opinions.
"Because they use social media, they may know more about the depth of disagreement over the issue in their wide circle of contacts," he said. "This might make them hesitant to speak up either online or offline for fear of starting an argument, offending or even losing a friend."
While many people might say keeping political debate off Facebook is a matter of tact, Hampton said there is a concern that a person's fear of offending someone on social media stifles debate.
"A society where people aren't able to share their opinions openly and gain from understanding alternative perspectives is a polarized society," he said.
WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Justice Department probes the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Missouri, history suggests there's no guarantee of a criminal prosecution, let alone a conviction.
Federal authorities investigating possible civil rights violations in the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson must meet a difficult standard of proof, a challenge that has complicated the path to prosecution in past police shootings.
To build a case, they would need to establish that the police officer, Darren Wilson, not only acted with excessive force but also willfully violated Brown's constitutional rights. Though the Justice Department has a long history of targeting police misconduct, including after the 1992 beating of Rodney King, the high bar means that many high-profile police shootings that have raised public alarm never wound up in federal court.
"It's a very difficult standard to meet, and it really is satisfied only in the most egregious cases," said University of Michigan law professor Samuel Bagenstos, the former No. 2 official in the department's civil rights division. "Criminal enforcement of constitutional rights is not something that is easily pursued. It really requires building a case very carefully, very painstakingly."
Federal prosecutors, for instance, declined to charge New York police officers who killed the unarmed Sean Bell in a 50-shot barrage hours before his 2006 wedding. The four New York officers who in 1999 fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant, after they said they mistook his wallet for a gun were acquitted during a state trial and never faced federal prosecution for his killing.
More recently, the Justice Department did not charge either of the officers who shot and killed Miriam Carey, a 34-year-old woman who last year drove into a White House checkpoint and then led police on a car chase toward the U.S. Capitol.
"Accident, mistake, fear, negligence and bad judgment do not establish such a criminal violation," prosecutors wrote in explaining the decision.
In the Brown case, much will depend on the specific facts of the confrontation, which remain unclear. Police have said Wilson was pushed into his squad car and physically assaulted. Some witnesses have reported seeing Brown's arms up in the air before the shooting, an apparent sign of surrender. An autopsy paid for by Brown's family concluded that he was shot six times, twice in the head.
Investigators are working with a federal law that makes it illegal for officers to abuse their power by willfully depriving a person of his civil rights — in this case, the right to be free from an unlawful search and seizure. The statute does not require an officer to have been motivated by racial bias, but it does mean that he or she can not intentionally use more force than the law permits.
But the law is complicated by the fact that police officers are given latitude in their use of force, including in circumstances where an officer reasonably believed the force was necessary to capture a dangerous fleeing felon or had a good basis to fear his life or someone else's was in imminent danger, said Rachel Harmon, a University of Virginia law professor and former Justice Department civil rights prosecutor.
"In order to prove that there was a constitutional violation, the government would have to prove that from a reasonable officer's perspective, those circumstances didn't exist and that a reasonable officer wouldn't believe that they existed," Harmon said, noting that the Supreme Court has said courts should not apply the "20/20 vision of hindsight" in evaluating whether an officer used excessive force.
The civil rights statute in recent years has been used to prosecute law enforcement officers for a wide range of conduct, including sexual assault, robbery and shootings of unarmed civilians in New Orleans in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But because it can be difficult to prove that an officer didn't feel threatened during a confrontation, far more successful prosecutions involve victims who were assaulted while already in custody, such as Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant who was sodomized with a broomstick inside a New York police precinct.
Dynamic confrontations, like the one alleged to have preceded the Ferguson shooting, are more difficult than cases involving an "inmate who is handcuffed, or in a cell who gets beaten by a corrections officer," said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Miami.
In addition to the federal civil rights probe, a St. Louis County grand jury is hearing evidence about the death in its own investigation.
There is precedent for the Justice Department to become involved at the conclusion of a state case if federal officials feel justice hasn't been done. After four police officers were acquitted in a California state trial in the beating of Rodney King, the Justice Department filed federal civil rights charges and won convictions against two of them.
In the Ferguson case, dozens of FBI agents have canvassed the area to interview witnesses. Attorney General Eric Holder last week traveled there to help ease tensions and the department has obtained an additional federal autopsy to augment those carried out by local authorities and at the request of Brown's family.
"I don't know that it's an indication of there being something there (that points to guilt) any more than it is a response from Washington to show, 'We'll look at this. We'll find it out. Everyone please calm down,'" Weinstein said.
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — The Ebola virus may have the "upper hand" in an outbreak that has killed more than 1,400 people in West Africa but experts can stop the virus' spread, a top American health official said at the start of his visit to the hardest-hit countries.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was in Liberia on Tuesday, and later plans to stop in Sierra Leone and Guinea. Nigeria also has recorded cases, but officials there have expressed optimism that its spread can be controlled.
"Lots of hard work is happening, lots of good things are happening," Frieden told a meeting attended by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday. "But the virus still has the upper hand."
Even as Liberia resorts to stringent measures to try to halt the spread of Ebola, frustration mounted over the slow collection of dead bodies from neighborhoods of Monrovia. One group of residents attached plastic ties to the wrists and ankles of one suspected Ebola victim and dragged his corpse to a busy street, according to an Associated Press journalist at the scene.
Authorities have decreed that all Ebola victims must be collected by government health workers and cremated, as contact with bodies can transmit the virus.
In Nigeria, two more Ebola patients were declared to have survived the disease and were released from hospital, said Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu on Tuesday. Five people have died from the disease in Nigeria, while a total of seven have recovered. One person remains in the hospital in an isolation ward, said Chukwu.
The current outbreak is the largest ever and experts have struggled to contain it for a host of reasons: doctors took a long time to identify it, it is happening in a region where people are highly mobile, it has spread to densely populated areas and many people have resisted or hid from treatment. The disease has overwhelmed already struggling health systems in some of the world's poorest countries.
But CDC director Frieden expressed optimism that the outbreak can be contained.
"Ebola doesn't spread by mysterious means, we know how it spreads," he said in his remarks, which were broadcast on Liberian TV. "So we have the means to stop it from spreading, but it requires tremendous attention to every detail."
Liberian officials already have sealed off an entire slum neighborhood in the capital. Sirleaf also has declared a state of emergency, and ordered all her ministers and top government officials to remain in the country or return from any trips.
Late Monday, her office said in a statement that any official who defied that order had been fired. The order was issued a few weeks ago and officials had been given a week to return. The statement did not say how many or who had been fired.
According to the latest World Health Organization tally, the Ebola outbreak has killed 1,427 people of the 2,615 sickened. The U.N. health agency says that 240 health care workers have been infected with Ebola, calling that an unprecedented number. Half of those infected have died.
The agency said that the high number of infections among health workers is due to a shortage of protective gear and its improper use and a shortage of staff to treat the tremendous influx of patients.
In the current outbreak as many as 90,000 protective suits will be needed every month, according to Jorge Castilla, an epidemiologist with the European Union Commission's Department for Humanitarian Aid. That estimate takes into account a recent increase in the number of beds available for treating Ebola patients and more stringent standards to protect health workers.
There has been a severe shortage of that equipment that is only now beginning to be resolved, he said. He did not say exactly how many suits were lacking.
The outbreak also desperately needs more workers to trace the people that the sick have come into contact with and more centers where patients can be screened for the disease in a safe way that contains any Ebola infections, said Castilla, who recently returned from a trip to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A separate Ebola outbreak emerged over the weekend in Congo, though experts say it is not related to the West African epidemic. Doctors Without Borders, which is running many of the treatment centers in the West Africa outbreak, said it was also sending experts and supplies to Equateur, a northwestern province of Congo. But the medical charity has already warned that its resources already were stretched.
"In normal times, we're able to mobilize teams specializing in hemorrhagic fevers, but currently we are facing an enormous epidemic in West Africa, limiting our capacity to respond to the outbreak in Equateur province," said Jeroen Beijnberger, the group's medical coordinator in Congo.
Associated Press writers Abbas Dulleh in Monrovia, Liberia and Sarah DiLorenzo in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.
NAPA, Calif. (AP) — The earthquake that jolted California's wine capital may have caused at least $1 billion in property damage, but it also added impetus to the state's effort to develop an early warning system that might offer a few precious seconds for residents to duck under desks, trains to slow down and utility lines to be powered down before the seismic waves reach them.
California's senior senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, joined a chorus of renewed calls on Monday for the quick deployment of a quake activity alert system such as the ones already in operation in Mexico and Japan.
"Officials in Washington and along the West Coast should partner with the private sector to make an interoperable earthquake early-warning system a reality, and we should do so as soon as possible before a much larger earthquake strikes," Feinstein said.
Such a system may be closer to reality than most Californians realize, though it's still years away. A bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year ordered his Office of Emergency Services to develop a comprehensive statewide system and by 2016, identify sources of funding for it. An early-warning system would cost an estimated $80 million.
The office's director, Mark Ghiladucci said Monday that he pictures a network, financed with both private and public money, made up of a government "backbone" and supplemented with data from private sources in more remote areas.
"This is sort of the last mile out of the 20-year effort for scientists that have been working on this for us to pull it all together," Ghiladucci said. "California is unique. It is a long, complicated, highly populated state, and we have to have a system that is 100 percent reliable so that people can count on it."
Richard Allen, director of the University of California, Berkeley, Seismological Lab, said his lab received a 10-second advance warning of light shaking when the seismic waves from Sunday's quake arrived there. Allen is among the researchers testing the earthquake warning system that is not yet available for public use, but is envisioned as the basis for the state's system.
The magnitude-6.0 temblor was centered near the city of Napa and caused several injuries, left four mobile homes destroyed by gas-fed fires and damaged wineries, historic buildings and hotels. The area has experienced dozens of aftershocks since, the largest of which was a 3.9-magnitude quake that struck at 5:33 a.m. Tuesday about 7 miles south of the city of Napa.
There were no calls reporting damage or injuries, but the quake did rattle already frayed nerves.
"That's not just an aftershock. That's another earthquake to me," Krisha Reed told KTVU-TV after running out of her apartment. She suffered injuries in Sunday's quake.
Allen, of the UC Berkeley Seismological Lab, said even though Berkeley is about 40 miles from the quake's epicenter and did not experience any damage during Sunday's quake, in a more violent temblor, 10 seconds could have made a big difference.
"A few seconds means that you can move to your safe zone, that you can get under that sturdy table; that way you are not going to be injured by falling fireplaces and ceiling lights. We see a large number of injuries resulting from these kinds of incidents."
The systems can't predict quakes, and are not effective at the epicenter, where the tremors go out almost simultaneously. The warning people receive — a few seconds to tens of seconds — depends on the distance from the epicenter.
Napa would have received at most a second of warning if California already had a system in place, said Thomas Heaton, a professor of engineering seismology at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
"It's important for people to keep this in perspective," he said. "It's a new kind of tool, but it's not a panacea."
Business owners in Napa spent Monday mopping up high-end vintages that spilled from barrels and bottles and sweeping away broken glass in the rush to get the tourist hotspot back in shape for the summer's final holiday weekend. Government and tourism officials assessing its economic and structural impact encouraged visitors to keep flocking to the charming towns, tasting rooms, restaurants and spas that drive the Napa Valley economy.
While cleanup will take time and broken water mains remained a problem, they said, the worst damage and disruption was confined to the city's downtown, where a post office, library and a 141-room hotel were among more than 160 homes and buildings either deemed unsafe to occupy or enter. Two hotels and 12 wineries were still closed Monday, as well as gift shops, restaurants and other downtown businesses, Clay Gregory, president of tourism organization Visit Napa Valley, said.
"Clearly, we are concerned that people are going to see that it was a catastrophe, and it certainly wasn't good, but it wasn't a catastrophe by any means," Gregory said as workers at a shuttered downtown visitor's center updated lists of open wineries and surveyed hotels about cancellations. "The real story is that it has impacted a very small part of the valley."
Local officials have an early working estimate that Napa Valley suffered $1 billion in property damage, but they hope the long-term economic impact of the quake to businesses will be modest, Napa County Supervisor Bill Dodd said. August, September and October grape harvest represents the busiest time of year for both the valley's 500 or so vintners and the visitors who come from all over the world to see them work.
If people "think Napa is devastated, it's anything but devastated. We're only 24 hours out from an earthquake, and we're on our way back," Dodd said.
The Napa Valley Wine Train, which offers tourists a three-hour journey through 18 miles of wine country, canceled its service Monday but planned to resume trips Tuesday. Other tour operators said they were taking it one day at a time, tweaking their itineraries as wineries and their workers dealt with the damage.
At the famed Robert Mondavi Winery outside Napa, where visitors sat in a sunny outdoor tasting area sipping glasses of wine on Monday, gift shop supervisor Kevin Seeman said there had been only a small number of canceled reservations and that the people who worked there were more on edge than the patrons.
"A lot of the staffers are worried," Seeman said. "Some of them their homes are full of rubble; they are worried because they can't find their cats. The visitors seem not so worried about it all."
Thanawala reported from San Francisco. Lisa Leff in San Francisco and Scott Mayerowitz contributed to this story.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — His standing with veterans damaged by scandal, President Barack Obama on Tuesday defended his administration's response to Veterans Affairs lapses that delayed health care for thousands of former service members, but conceded more needed to be done to regain their trust.
His appearance also had deep political overtones in a state where the Democratic senator, Kay Hagan, is facing a difficult re-election and has sought to distance herself from Obama's policies, declaring as recently as Friday that his administration had not "done enough to earn the lasting trust of our veterans."
But Hagan and the state's Republican Senator, Richard Burr, were at the North Carolina Air National Guard Base to greet Obama. She welcomed him warmly and he gave her a peck on the cheek.
Obama and Hagan were both addressing the American Legion's National convention, with the president's address to the legionnaires the latest administration response to the health care uproar that led to the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki in May.
Obama declared that the nation owes veterans for their service and that the lengthy wait times and attempts to hide scheduling flaws were "outrageous and inexcusable."
"We are very clear-eyed about the problems that are still there," Obama said. "And those problems require us to regain the trust of our veterans and live up to our vision of a VA that is more effective and more efficient and that truly puts veterans first. And I will not be satisfied until that happens."
Obama promised "a new culture of accountability" under new Secretary Bob McDonald. "Bob doesn't play," Obama said.
He announced steps to strengthen access to mental health care by members of the military, to improve the transition for those leaving the military from care administered by the Defense Department to that run by Veterans Affairs, and to foster suicide prevention and better treatments for post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Earlier this month, Obama signed a $16.3 billion law aimed at easing the long waits that tens of thousands of military veterans had endured to get medical care.
The law, a product of rare bipartisanship in the House and Senate, followed reports of veterans dying while awaiting appointments to see VA doctors and of a widespread practice of employees covering up months-long wait times for appointments. In some cases, employees received bonuses based on falsified records.
The VA says investigators have found no proof that delays in care caused any deaths at a VA hospital in Phoenix.
Moving beyond the steps included in the law, Obama planned to take executive actions that:
— Automatically enroll military personnel who are receiving care for mental health conditions and are leaving the service in a program that transfers them to a new care team in the VA.
— Undertake a study designed to detect whether people show signs of being vulnerable to suicide or post-traumatic stress syndrome.
— Spends $34.4 million in a VA suicide prevention study and about $80 million on a program to treat diseases, including post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Obama also announced a partnership with lenders such as Wells Fargo Bank, CitiMortgage, Bank of America, Ocwen Loan Servicing and Quicken Loans to make it easier for active-duty service members to obtain mortgage interest rate reductions.