Rumour in Contemporary Society
A rumor, or rumour, is a “tall tale of reasons for reasons of things happening”. The term is not derived from the French word rumplestiltsch, the source of many false rumours about expensive items. No French word has ever been used to refer to “rumours”. Most people refer to a rumour as “rumours”. Some people may also refer to as “supposed rumours”.
Allport’s Theory of Cognitive Therapy is the basis of many of the popular cognitive restructuring techniques, such as those used by John Gray and Tony Robbins. Gray’s work on conversational hypnosis was deeply influenced by Allport’s work. In the later half of the 20th century, however, the Allportian theory began to be challenged by researchers such as James Rotton and Robert Persig. They claimed that there was no evidence that conversational hypnosis can indeed change human behaviour. On the other hand, the Allportian Hypnotists could not provide a guarantee that the postulation of a rumor is true.
Rumors are a problem when it causes unnecessary delay or if it is fostered by an irresponsible role player. When rumors are fostered by an irresponsible role player such as an irresponsible gossip writer or by a public official such as a politician, it is a form of propaganda. Propaganda consists of using any form of communication to promote a particular political opinion or program, to unite or to demean one race, to increase or decrease public support for a specific social system, institution or idea, or to increase or decrease opposition to a particular cause or candidate. As mentioned, it is not uncommon for a politician to spread rumours in order to get supporters to back them. The spread of gossip is often considered acceptable since everyone does it; this practice is widely accepted as well as unpardonable. Propaganda should never be tolerated.
The methodology of Allport’s research into rumors is somewhat unfortunate. Most allport’s work concentrates on the more formal methods of propagating news such as newspaper and television advertising, which are obviously not effective if you want to effect change. The informal networks were created as an informal and democratic way to bring about change through a subtle communication of ideas. In some respects they are similar to traditional ways of propagating news, such as passing around a newspaper story or making a speech to an audience. Unfortunately the informal networks have a lot more power than these types of methods because they can spread fear, uncertainty and demoralize the opposition much quicker than the other methods.
Rumors are very common and have been part of human society for centuries. The anonymity that the Internet provides allows for many rumors to be more harmful than helpful. For example, unfounded rumours that turn out to be untrue can cause physical harm. The power of psychology combined with the lack of accountability for the propagation of rumour can lead to an excessive amount of fear amongst groups of people which is counterproductive to any social change initiatives that may be embarked upon.
In order to avoid the pitfalls that the likes of blogging, and even the viral spreads of information, it is important that we understand how rumor works. The most influential rumor in history was the Postman’s Fraudulent Rag, which has been credited with helping to spark the American Revolution. The postman, Stephen Girard, created a series of false posts that started to circulate via the various mediums, eventually finding their way into the English language where they were printed as legitimate documents. The impact this had on American society cannot be underestimated and must be considered when we examine the ways in which social change is effected today.