The Study of Rumor

Rumor is a false, unsubstantiated report that spreads rapidly through a community by word of mouth. These reports are often used to influence the behavior of crowds for good or for ill.

The study of rumor can be done in various ways, including lab experiments and field studies. Laboratory experiments are generally designed to replicate the effects of a rumor and to test different assumptions about its formation. Field studies, on the other hand, are designed to capture a rumor in its natural setting and to observe how it spreads over time. Both types of studies provide valuable information about rumors and the human response to them.

Researchers have found that rumors are more likely to spread when they are credible and relevant to people’s lives. This is because they are more likely to affect people’s actions and attitudes. Additionally, a person’s personality is also a factor in the spreading of a rumor. For example, a rumor about a politician’s affair may be more widely believed by people who are more liberal or progressive than those who are more conservative or traditional.

Another important characteristic of a rumor is that it becomes increasingly exaggerated as it spreads. This is due to the fact that people who hear a rumor tend to embellish it to fit their own beliefs and values. A simple fact such as a train accident may be changed into a story about a hundred fatalities. Similarly, a person’s opinion of a famous celebrity may be changed into an outrageous rumor such as “she is an evil dictator”.

In 1947, Gordon Allport and Joseph Postman wrote that as a rumor travels from one person to the next it becomes shorter, more concise, and easier to grasp and tell. They based this finding on their analysis of the spread of a rumor in a group of people.

Knapp also identified three key characteristics of a rumor: 1. They are transmitted by word of mouth; 2. They present an event, person, or condition; and 3. They satisfy emotional needs of the community. These features are essential in the formation of a rumor because they determine its credibility, relevance, and reception.

A recent study of rumor diffusion on Twitter examined the retweets of early tweets reporting a rumor and later tweets that deny the rumor. The authors found that users tended to retweet the initial rumor stories, even when they were unverified. This is likely because the rumor generates arousal and excitement, which makes it more attractive to others. However, the authors also found that rumor debunks were retweeted less than the original rumors. This is probably because the debunkers did not provide evidence to support their claims. This suggests that people who want to counter a rumor need to make their case with data and statistics instead of anecdotes. This will increase the likelihood that their rebuttals will be retweeted and reach more people. Also, they need to be empathic toward those who believe the rumor and validate their points with facts from reliable sources.