Using last year's revelations of government surveillance of Americans' phone and email records as a test issue, researchers announced Tuesday they found that the "spiral of silence" behavioral dynamic of the pre-internet era also held up in social media forums where participants had the opportunity to offer their views on the case of Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency. According to a report released Tuesday, the tendency of people not to speak up about policy issues in public, or among family, friends and work colleagues, when they believe their point of view is not widely shared is called the spiral of silence. The Pew Research Center Internet Project said it picked the issue for its research because surveys had shown Americans were closely divided over whether NSA contractor leaks about surveillance were justified and over whether the surveillance policy was a good or bad idea. The center surveyed 1,801 adults and found people were less willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in social media than in person, that social media did not provide an alternative platform for those not willing to discuss the story, and that in both personal and online settings people were more willing to share their views if they thought their audience agreed with them.


"Those who do not feel that their Facebook friends or Twitter followers agree with their opinion are more likely to self-censor their views on the Snowden-NSA story in many circumstances - in social media and in face-to-face encounters," the center wrote in its eight-page report. - M. Norton/SHNS


A bill signed into law last week allowing interior designers to bid on state government contracts will increase efficiency and decrease costs, according to Gov. Deval Patrick. Architects and engineers have long been allowed to bid on state contracts, while interior designers have been disadvantaged by needing to subcontract their services, proponents of the law argued prior to its passage. Interior designers and architects have sparred for years over the issue, which cropped up during the 2007-2008 session when lawmakers sent Patrick a bill that he vetoed. That bill "unacceptably expanded" the jurisdiction of the Designer Selection Board, a volunteer group of architects and engineers who select designers for public construction projects, Patrick said in a letter to lawmakers on Thursday. The new bill (H 4303), which he signed on Thursday, "addresses those concerns and appropriately reduces the burden" placed on the board by no longer requiring it to determine if a project is primarily interior design work, Patrick wrote. According to the American Society of Interior Designers, the interior design trade is a $205 million industry in Massachusetts, with 303 businesses. "With the passage of this bill, public awarding authorities seeking interior design services associated with public construction services may procure those services directly without having to hire an intermediary architectural or engineering," Patrick wrote. "This direct relationship will increase efficiency and decrease the cost of the services for public awarding authorities and the taxpayers of the Commonwealth." The law goes into effect in 85 days. G. Dumcius/SHNS


With prices continuing to climb, single-family home and condominium sales in Massachusetts during July were down compared to a year ago, the Warren Group announced Tuesday. "The decrease in single-family home and condo sales is discouraging, and the limited inventory is definitely a factor," said Warren Group editorial director Cassidy Murphy in a statement. "The rise in the median selling price for both single-family homes and condos indicates that good inventory is selling quickly and at a good price. There just isn't a lot of it." Year-over-year median single-family prices have increased for 22 consecutive months and stood at $355,000 in July. Housing is a driver of the local economy and high housing costs can discourage people from settling in Massachusetts or limit their spending abilities. "A strong housing market bolsters the construction industry, with its important web of input/output relations with many other sectors," Daniel Hodge and Robert Nakosteen wrote in a recent MassBenchmarks article. "Homeowners' balance sheets are growing stronger as housing improves, prompting increased consumer spending." Single-family house median prices rose 4.7 percent from January while July 2014 transactions were down 4.2 percent compared to last July and down 2.3 percent over the first seven months of 2014, compared to the same period in 2013. Condo prices rose 5.5 percent in July, and median condo prices were up 8.6 percent compared to a year ago. - A. Metzger/SHNS