Lecture Eight: Rumor and Gossip [October 30, 2013]
- Gossip and Rumor is a central part of social life, we all participate
- Almost all collective behavior to an extent would include gossip; rumor/gossip is
ubiquitous, a sort of side effect
- Why is it collective behavior?
o It’s mostly uninstitutionalized, generally spontaneous, generally unstructured, and
can involve usually a large number of people
o It used to be that gossip and rumor depended on face-to-face communication,
writing or newsletter. But now you can have it in crowds and publics. Acting
crowds are pretty prominent with this
o Public is common also, due to the way we use Internet and such now. How
publics act in a virtual way
- Both rumor and gossip can be both positive and negative. Studies done show a 50/50
- Transmission of stories, modes of transmission that have to do with knowledge and story
- Gossip and rumor is the grease of social relations, inherent in all social
life/communication. – Weapon, compliment, flattery, etc. Gossip/rumor as social currency
Distinction between Rumor and Gossip
- Rumor is a story that is unsubstantiated and unauthenticated and told without reliable
o Rumors tend to be theory driven rather than fact driven
o Passed on not because of weight of evidence
o Rumor is both a process and a product
o Rumor can be personal and impersonal at the same time
o Rumor is by definition unsubstantiated – starts and ends when it is proven true or
false, which is different from gossip (i.e. a prof who was in a traffic accident,
broken legs – shows up to class with both legs, rumor ends)
o Conditions that influence/encourage rumor transmission and generation:
Importance or involvement: relevant to a person’s life or subjective
Uncertainty: ambiguity of what the facts are. Sense of the unknown
Anxiety: in some certain stances, relating to the first two. Entertaining
i.e. When the US government shut down, the stock market lacked
predictability and certainty, as their info tap (government) was shut off.
- Fundamentally difference: Rumors are fact based, gossip is not fact based and
o Gossip is always strictly personal. It is not defined by its factual foundation like
o May be substantiated and unsubstantiated, told and transmitted regardless
o Rumor can morph into gossip, and it can overlap. i.e. the prof has no broken
legs, but think he was there, so maybe he is in trouble with the police, he caused
the accident, etc. – that would be gossip
o Makes gossip insidious and quite powerful.
o Visibility – especially in celebrity culture, the more visible you are, the more
gossip you generate. People don’t shy away from gossip, and if you’re skilled
enough on it, you can generate your own gossip.
o Gossip as a career – i.e. celebrity gossip: Kim Kardashian – apex of gossip and
rumor who have 16 mil twitter follower from making it. Celebrities now do not
complain about paparazzi because they are their own paparazzi. Production of
gossip related to identity. Not necessarily something people project on yourself,
you have to be very social to see the two way character of gossip/rumor
- i.e. Ghost in a building
o The myth that it is a ghost is a rumor – not personal, not about a person
o A rumor that will go on and on but it also has a gossip aspect to it.
o “Double hearsay rumor”
Functions of Gossip
- (i) Integration of the group or community. Reinforce a sense of social cohesion. A source
of power and jurisdiction, to share or not share. Establishes a sense of belonging. A sign
that you are not part of a group is when the gossip is not shared with you, not trusted,
- (ii) Affirmation of a moral code. Not a straightforward or strong way but has a moral tinge.
It can also be very judgmental, one of the ways people can be overtly judgmental without
- (iii) Competition between groups. Both negative and positive.
- (iv) Enables so