Rumors are dark, hurtful, mischievous things that are spread to cause destruction. Rumors have been around since the beginning of time, and are stronger now more than ever. Rumors are whispered, as if to indicate that they will not spread. Rumors are shouted, printed, posted, and broadcasted. Rumors are lies and those whom associate with rumors are bad people, or are they? Rumors are not always bad, and they don’t always turn out to be lies. There are many unknown things about rumors, like how and why are they really created?
DiFonzo defines a rumor as “…unverified information statements that circulate about topics that people perceive as important; arise in situations of ambiguity, threat, or potential threat; and are used by people attempting to make sense or to manage risk” (375). A rumor starts out as an important thought in one persons mind. A thought that is kept to oneself merely stays a thought and never develops into a rumor. But, a thought that is just important enough to share with someone else morphs into a rumor. Rumors are not always intentional lies. They do however start out as unverified information.
If a rumor is verified it is no longer a rumor, it then becomes factual information. The information that is passed from one person to many people is thought to be of importance. Whether the rumor pertains to something local, nationwide, global, social, political, public, or private it contains information that is substantial and has the possibility to be life changing. A rumor is targeted to a certain group of people. The spread of the rumor depends on the number of people who perceive the information as important. The group can range from a few people to the majority of the world.
A rumor of “Bob cheated on Mary with Susan” would certainly be very important to a small number of people and could devastate their lives. On the other side of the spectrum a rumor that “An asteroid five times the size of Saturn is headed toward earth and total death is imminent” would also be of great importance and would affect many people. Rumors are born, bred, and sought out of human emotion. The amount of rumors increase in times of perceived danger, threat, and stress. “In practice it has been found that the emotional needs most frequently served by rumors are wish, fear, and hostility” (Knapp 361).
A rumor is spread or sought to satisfy an emotional need of hope, comfort, fear, and hostility. Therefore it makes sense that the amount of rumors increases during stressful times. In the aftermath of the recent tornados in Oklahoma, rumors exploded. Social media, radio stations, and television stations broadcast the information from the moment of touchdown. Two different television stations broadcast contradicting information at the same time and facebook erupted with photos, videos, and information. People were calling other people, turning on the television, and getting on facebook to seek information or give it.
They sought answers, comfort, and hope. Why then do some rumors flourish and are known all over the world and others die out after only a short run? One reason has already been brought up, the number of people who consider the information important. A rumor can live longer if it is adaptable to its audience. A rumor that has information added to or taken out may appear more important to certain groups. Another factor in a successful rumor is the length of it. A rumor that is long and complicated will be hard to remember and hard to tell. Another reason is the desire for humans to be accepted.
People will agree with someone else even if they are not sure themselves to avoid hostility and risk losing other peoples good opinion of them. Perhaps people agree because of self-doubt. If one person thinks a rumor is wrong but is hesitant to disagree because the majority believe it to be true then they must be wrong and not the group. People’s personal and social anxiety can escalate a rumor fast and wide. If the majority of people are passive, have self-doubt, or want to avoid conflict then the number of people who perceive the rumor to be true increases.
Sunstein states, “Often people will be suspicious of a rumor, or believe that it is not true, but they will not contradict the judgment of the relevant group, largely in order to avoid social sanctions” (393-394). In conclusion, it is sufficient to say that rumors are more complex than originally thought. They have distinct characteristics and classifications that define them. The most successful rumors are important to the world. If a rumor is assembled just right under the perfect conditions, the result are everlasting.