Rumors and Social Informatics

A rumor is a story that has not been proven true. The word comes from the Latin word rumorem, meaning “noise” or “gossip.” It can be true or false, but it is usually unconfirmed until someone has seen the evidence. A rumor might be about a celebrity sighting, the school closing early or a jealous ex-boyfriend, but it may also be about something serious like a plane crash or a murder investigation. Rumors can make people believe things that are untrue or cause them to lose confidence in people they trust.

A person who spreads rumors is called a rumormonger or gossiper. The term is also used in British English to refer to a fabricated or incorrect piece of information. In some countries, the word rumor is spelled ruumour or rumor.

The scientific study of rumors and how they are spread, interpreted and disseminated is known as social informatics. The goal of this field is to understand the process by which rumors are formed and spread, and what effects they have on individuals, groups and society.

Rumors are important to society because they provide a means of conveying information quickly and broadly. They are often more effective than official sources of news because they allow for the quick sharing of opinions and perceptions of events that might otherwise be kept private. Rumors are also valuable to society because they can help people deal with uncertainty about their environment and future. They can also facilitate decision making by giving them a sense of control over the world around them.

Scientists have identified several variables that affect rumor transmission. One is anxiety, which can be either situational or personality based. People who are more anxious tend to discuss rumors and create them more frequently than people who are less anxious. Rumors that prey on fear or anxieties are particularly potent because they arouse people’s emotions and can be contagious. For example, rumors during World War II that England and Germany were planning attacks on each other led to mass panic in the population of both countries.

Studies have shown that rumors are more likely to be believed if they come from a source that is perceived as trustworthy. People also believe a rumor more if they have heard it multiple times. For example, a Wall Street stockbroker who initially dismissed the rumor that top White House aide Vince Foster had been murdered placed more credence in the rumor after hearing it from two other sources. Rumors are also more likely to be believed if they are about a highly personal topic, such as a family member being diagnosed with cancer or a friend having an affair.

Negative rumors can have significant negative impacts on workplace attitudes and behaviors, such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, morale, trust in management, productivity and intention to leave. This is especially the case when a rumor is aimed at a specific group of people, such as minorities, women or managers.