A rumor is an unsubstantiated report of a piece of news that may not be true. It is generally spread through word of mouth, although it can also be read in a newspaper or online. People often use the term to describe a story that has not yet been confirmed to be true, such as “I heard a rumor that the new superhero movie is going to be amazing.” It is sometimes used to refer to gossip or hearsay, but it can also be used to describe a statement about an event that is still under investigation, such as whether khat leaves can carry the coronavirus.
Many social science disciplines have studied rumors, including sociology, psychology, and communication studies. However, researchers have come to widely different conclusions about what constitutes a rumor. One of the main factors that lead to a rumor is uncertainty, which leads to speculation about what might happen. People often discuss and pass along rumors that they believe are important, particularly those related to events that affect them personally. Anxiety, an emotional state of dread or worry about a potential negative outcome, also promotes rumor discussion. People share rumors about things that they are concerned about in order to feel better about their situation and gain a sense of control.
While rumors often are inaccurate, they tend to have a great effect on social life because of the way they influence how people act and how they think. For example, a rumor about a celebrity’s death may cause people to stop attending public appearances or even cancel their travel plans. On the other hand, a rumor about a local disaster may trigger an emergency response that results in a chain reaction.
People tell rumors to fit into their social roles, such as to maintain an image of being well informed or to compete with other groups in the community. They also may tell rumors to enhance their relationships with other people. For instance, they might tell a rumor about their friend’s new car to boost their self-esteem by showing off.
A recent study of rumor in the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that middle-aged people’s willingness to re-spread rumors is negatively influenced by their personal anxiety level, their ability to discern truthfulness from falsehoods, and their perception of the severity of the consequences associated with rumor dissemination. In addition, their willingness to re-spread a rumor is positively influenced by the presence of opinion leaders. Based on the findings, it is concluded that a more comprehensive and integrated approach to managing rumor in times of crisis is required. This will require the development of more reliable methodologies for the collection and analysis of rumor-related data. It will also require more research on the role of opinion leaders in rumor transmission. For example, studies are needed to determine if an opinion leader can mitigate the effects of an anxious population or if the spread of a rumor is a function of the anxiety level and the availability of other sources of information.