“I heard he left the country to escape his debts” rumors Sarah J. “Yes! He suffers from a gambling problem” gossips Patricia F.
It is certainly safe to say that almost everyone gossips or even spreads rumors! According to social psychologist Laurent Bègue, about 60% of adult conversations are about someone who isn’t present.
Although I thought terms ‘gossip’ and ‘rumor’ were the same, it turns out they are slightly different in terms of intensity. According to Ralph L. Rosnow (1976) a rumor is described as public communications that are infused with private hypotheses about how the world works; or ways of making sense to help us cope with our anxieties and uncertainties. Gossip on the other hand, is more consequential, personal and intimate, defined as casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.
To my surprise, I have discovered that some scientists believe that rumors and gossip deflect a positive impact on society. Author Robin Dunbar argued in his book of 1996 ‘Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language’ that in order for individuals to service their relationships and maintain their alliances, a certain level of vocal grooming has to be maintained. Dunbar has compared it to the principle of: if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. I personally disagree with him. Gossip (and especially rumors) are wrong, hurtful and immoral.
Gossip and rumors actually have a history!
During and after World War II, there was a general concern over national safety and damage to morale due to rumors spreading false alarm and raising false hope. Gordon W. Allport and Leo Postman conducted research on rumor psychology during 1947, followed by more research during the late 1960’s and 1970’s providing more grounded insights into the effects of rumors and gossip on evolution of human intelligence and social life.
Private SNAFU – Rumors (1943) – World War II Cartoon
Does Social Media aid in spreading Rumors and Gossip?
I personally remember in the past, during the 90’s to be exact, how gossip and rumors revolved around parties, gatherings and over-the-fence neighboring chats, therefore limiting its creation, existence and maintenance. Needless to say of course how societies were much more reserved and conservative as opposed to the current liberal displays, hence less ugly rumors and gossip. However, throughout the past decade or so, I have witnessed how the evolvement of social and digital media has drastically changed our social behaviors. Nowadays, the ease of access to information (about anything or anyone) is a piece of cake. Added to that is the ease of manipulation and fabrication of not only stories, but actual photos and videos of individuals, just a few clicks away. The privacy and security of one’s life is jeopardized by this ease of access…Google can tell it all! I googled my name once and my pictures appeared! To let you in on a little secret, I am officially Facebook-free for over a year now (shhh).
When looking into the printing industry (I remember how I used to receive gossip magazines from the UK via mail box!), I’ve discovered that publishers have profited from gossip since the rise of the printing press (and later gossip magazines, like Hello and OK, became a hit). Television, newspapers and online versions of most commercial media now have significant gossip segments: all platforms forming a strong foundation for gossip and rumors. Added to that is the rise of social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, causing the fortunes of the gossip business to enormously expand.
source: google images
As for the realistic average day-to-day life of a regular person, Facebook, Instagram and particularly WhatsApp have become a key means of communication universally. There is no limit as to how fast, easy and globally one can share information. There is a frenzy of people sharing all sorts of videos, photos and stories through WhatsApp like a virus! Psychiatrist and neuroscience researcher Sean Luo of Columbia University, states that new studies on addiction of social media are emerging, estimating that at least 1 percent of Internet users worldwide need treatment.
To warp up, it is safe to say that just like everything else in life, the digital era has brought with it both pros and cons; lets hope the pros outweigh the cons!
By: Shama Abuhassabu