Rumor is an unverified account or explanation of events that circulates from one person to another. It typically pertains to something that is of concern to the community and which cannot be validated. Several social science disciplines have explored the concept of rumor, including sociology, psychology, and communication studies. Rumors have also been studied in the context of organizational behavior.
Some rumors are spread to cause harm or distress. Others are spread for fun and entertainment, or to achieve a personal goal, such as gaining popularity or power. In the latter case, rumor may be used as a form of social control.
The nature of a rumor depends on its motivation and characteristics, the context in which it is spread, the way it is received, and the effect it has on the community or organization. The rumor can be about someone in the community, a public figure, an organization, or a particular issue. A rumor is most likely to be accepted and spread when it is important or if people are interested in the subject matter.
For example, a rumor about a celebrity having cosmetic surgery is more likely to be spread than a rumor about someone being arrested. The reason is that the former carries more weight as being true than the latter, which may be viewed as a trivial or unimportant event. A rumor’s accuracy is also affected by how it is transmitted and by whom. The accuracy of a rumor can be improved by making it as factual as possible and by making sure to include evidence such as quoting a source, giving a URL to a source, or presenting an argument.
Other factors that influence rumor formation, transmission, and belief are curiosity, the desire to communicate, the need for conformity, and feelings of anxiety and dread. Anxiety about the future tends to promote rumor discussion as people discuss possible outcomes in order to feel more in control. People also tend to pass along rumors that are important and pertinent to their own interests, while they disbelieve rumors that don’t seem valid or relevant to them.
Rumors can be spread by word of mouth, through a formal publication such as a newspaper, or via electronic media. The Internet has made it easier than ever to collect data on rumor spread, and researchers have been using the social networking platforms of Facebook and Twitter to study how a rumor spreads. For example, Takayasu et al. analyzed tweets about the 2011 Japan earthquake to determine how the spread of a rumor about rain in the aftermath of the disaster was influenced by early tweets reporting the rumor and later tweets that corrected the rumor. The authors found that the presence of later correction tweets decreased the overall distribution of rumor reports. These findings are consistent with previous studies. The authors conclude that the use of these new technologies allows for more naturalistic and large-scale rumor research than has been previously possible.