A rumor is also called a “rumor” or “fabrication” in colloquial usage. A rumor can be a factual statement that is widely held by a large number of people but false in many regards. They can be started, allowed to grow and then carefully steered away from as the story develops. The process of spreading a rumor is often done anonymously, through the medium of an Internet forum for example, where it can rapidly gain momentum before being taken offline and given life through the telling of other people’s stories.
A rumor can serve a great purpose in raising awareness about an issue or promoting a solution. In business it can be used to attract customers to a product or service, to influence policy makers, public figures, entertainers and the like to support the cause or participate in an activity related to the issue at hand. It has been used to bring awareness to issues concerning school safety, health care, terrorism, poverty, hunger, and more.
A rumor can also be used to smear another person. One way this can be done is to create a rumour or spread a false story about another person. For example, you may wish to find out what happened when your child went missing. One possible way of doing this is to circulate a false story about the child having run away from home.
Online forums are perfect vehicles for spreading rumours, especially rumours concerning other people. This is because forums are places where people gather to discuss their opinions. If one person tells another person that he/she saw something happen, more than likely there will be several other people who also saw or heard about the event. This means that when one person speaks out in support of the rumour, dozens more will do the same.
Online “journalists” also serve as perfect vehicles for spreading rumors. These “journalists” often start the gossip from other sources online. After they have finished their story, they will attempt to get it live on a national or international news station. Although the majority of journalists do not participate in spreading rumors, they do not stop others from doing so either. For example, if a news organisation discovers that a celebrity has been falsely accused of something, it is not uncommon for that celebrity’s fans to circulate false stories about the incident.
This example is just one way that gossip, whether it originates from real people or online rumour mills, can be used as a weapon. Whether these stories are true or not, they have the potential to polarise public opinion and make otherwise undecided citizens suddenly supporting the rumour. Propaganda through news media, rumor spreading, and online gossip have shaped the social beliefs and behaviour for decades and are now finding new venues in the digital age.