Rumor is a claim about something that is not known to be true and is spread by word of mouth. It can be an allegation or a statement, such as “They said John used to be a thief.” The term may also refer to general hearsay or speculation, or it can refer to a specific piece of information, such as a prediction about the future, as in, “I heard that they are planning on building a new park in that area.”
Generally, rumors have little if any basis in fact, but people tend to believe them and pass them along if they find them interesting. This is because a rumor is interpreted as having social value, that is, it is relevant to an individual’s sense of community. The strength of a rumor is a function of its significance to the person hearing it, combined with its uncertainty and ambiguity.
It is important to understand how a rumor works in order to control it. In this book, experts in rumor psychology offer an analytical framework that can be applied to both societal and organizational situations. This framework integrates findings from foundational research in rumor theory, including the basics of rumor transmission and the basic law that rumors become stronger with each telling. It also considers the importance of an event to a person, which can affect rumor frequency and accuracy.
A rumor can have various outcomes, including attitudinal effects such as defaming a company or group (e.g., Corporation x supports the Church of Satan) or promoting hatred toward another group (e.g., American soldiers using night-vision goggles to spy on Iraqi women). Other results include a negative impact on an organization’s reputation or a loss of business.
One of the most serious consequences of a rumor is its effect on an individual’s psychological sense of self, often by derogating groups with which they are not associated. An example of this is the rumor that the Israelis were behind the attacks on September 11, 2001.
The ability of a rumor to spread has increased due to the proliferation of online communication platforms. With every user a sender and a receiver, these platforms can quickly become the source of widespread disinformation, which in turn can cause great panic in society.
When a rumor is started, it is important to figure out the goal. It can be to humiliate someone, break up a relationship, or take down a government. The goal should be clearly defined because it will have a direct impact on the way you create your rumor and the type of audience that it will reach. It is also important to know how to control the rumor and not get caught in a lie. You can do this by limiting the number of people that you tell the rumor to, making sure that they can keep it secret. Also, by knowing who is more likely to spread the rumor and who is most likely to question it or ask for proof, you can tailor your approach to maximize the potential of your rumor.