Rumor is a story that spreads quickly from person to person, often unsubstantiated and without proof. It is different from gossip, which involves private matters of little interest to the larger community. Rumors can be damaging or helpful. They can cause people to panic in a crisis, and they can lead to false conclusions. It is important for governments to control rumors.
The term rumor derives from the Latin rumorem, meaning “flying or popular report.” Early social science research on rumors focuses on informal communication and how it spreads. Sociologists have identified several characteristics that can help rumors to be spread and absorbed:
One important characteristic of a rumor is its “illusory truth effect,” whereby a rumor gains credibility because it has been repeated over time. It also explains why rumors can become so widespread so quickly. Another key characteristic of a rumor is its social impact, based on the idea that information about events has a powerful influence over crowd behavior. This is why a rumor may become more credible when it affects large groups of people, and it may be difficult to stop its spread.
In addition to the illusory truth effect and social impact, there are other factors that can influence the speed of a rumor’s spread. Some rumors are more interesting than others, and some people have a tendency to share stories that they think are amusing or fun. This is why a rumor about a celebrity’s engagement might spread more rapidly than a rumor about a school closing early.
To keep a rumor from spreading, it is important to figure out who will be most likely to share it and why. It can be helpful to target people who are naturally curious, such as those with a big vocabulary or a proclivity for telling a good story. Those who are shy or more reserved, however, are less likely to be interested in hearing a rumor. It is also important to remember that if you start a rumor, it might be hard to take back.
There are a number of strategies for starting a rumor, including targeting the right people and keeping it secret. Some rumors prey on anxieties, such as fears of nuclear war or the loss of personal freedoms. This is why they can spread so fast, as evidenced by propaganda posters from both England and Germany during World War II.
A rumor can also be manipulated by those seeking to achieve a political goal, such as influencing public opinion during a campaign or election. The power of a rumor to shape public opinion is well known, and many politicians and organizations use it strategically.
There is a growing interest in studying the dynamics of rumors on the Internet, and some researchers have developed methodologies for collecting data from online sources. They have observed the effects of retweets, for example, as an indicator of how a rumor has been disseminated through the Twitter network.