The term “rumor” has two distinctly different meanings. In one sense of the word, a rumor is simply a story, often exaggerated but not necessarily false. In another sense of the word, a rumor is a distorted version of reality which is circulated in order to promote an agenda. It is usually presented as true by the teller in the manner intended. The two senses of the word have quite distinct and opposing conceptions of what a rumor is. We’ll examine both definitions and consider which is applicable when describing rumors.
A rumor is not necessarily a false information. A popular saying, “The proof of the pudding is in the tasting,” describes an event that has taken place but is nowhere near what was perceived by those who didn’t participate in the experience. On the other hand, the more common example of a rumor is one which is largely inaccurate but widely held by a large number of people. An infamous example of this would be the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Thousands of dead fish washed up on shores all over the US and the story went viral. This is an example of a rumor being widely held without any factual foundation.
A rumor will often refer to facts that are not actually true. For example, “The President of the United States has been golfing today.” This is an exaggeration (the fact that the president is golfing does not make it true) and is generally understood to mean that the president participated in golfing but without actually participating in the game. A third example of this occurs often with law enforcement. An innocent motorist who was pulled over for swerving across the road because he was talking on his cell phone also experienced this.
What’s not commonly understood about a rumor is that it is not necessarily false. Just because something is told to be true doesn’t mean it’s actually true. Often the only way to differentiate between a rumor and the facts is to ask the question: Is this true? The answer is usually Yes. When a politician says something is factual, this indicates they believe the statement is factual. When a person says something is a rumor, it usually means that they don’t believe it is true.
The internet is loaded with rumors. A simple search on Google returned 4.6 million results. Many of these rumors are completely true but many are not. A popular rumor is that the government is secretly buying up all the gold. While this does seem like an accurate statement, it is nearly impossible to know just how much gold is owned by the federal government right now in order to conduct a gold audit.
Falsehoods are everywhere. People are often led to believe that something is factual when in most cases it is not. This makes it extremely difficult to conduct an actual fact check on a rumor. Fact checking can take time and often leads to more questions than answers.