Like Wild Fire; How a Rumor Consumes and Spreads
Did you hear what happened to ______(insert a famous person or someone in your network)? This question never seems to leave us unfazed. It immediately lures us in the trap of rumor and will not let us go. Like a tumor, a rumor quickly spreads. Rumor is a circulating story or information that is unverified; it is a reflection of our worldview. An example we will talk about is fear. The fears that easily grip our hearts shows how rumor becomes active, then, due to a rumor’s characteristic of ambiguity combined with our innate curiosity, it quickly spreads.
Rumors are an echo of our fears. They become easier to believe when it connects with our fears. A rumor is like the fertilizer for a plant- it nourishes our deep and hidden fears, turning what was once just a fright, into reality. Psychologist, Robert H. Knapp in his article “A Psychology of Rumor,” calls this ‘the bogie rumor-’ “[that] which derives from our fear and anxiety” (361). My childhood days in the Philippines, I went to a Catholic elementary school for a few years. There was a rumor (although I wasn’t aware of this term then) of nuns haunting the school. It was believed by most that a long time ago many of the nuns were decapitated. Their heads were supposedly buried in the schools’ present-day tennis courts. Every time I’d step on the tennis court during P.E class, my body felt uneasy; I was quite positive it was a ghosts’ presence, maybe one of the founding nuns of the school, prodding me to become a nun. Our minds are powerful, aren’t they? They are easily manipulated by fear. In hearing the ghost rumor, my mind was immediately consumed by dark and morbid thoughts. The horror movies I’ve watched, scary tales I’ve heard and all the spooky images stored up in my head- conspired with the group of the ghost-nuns imagery- to bring forth a vicious, yet surprisingly, plausible situation. In hindsight, it was irrational and absurd to believe in that rumor, but as Knapp says- “the farther [it’s] removed from a known or confirmed fact, the more easily it seem[s] to get twisted when passed on” (Knapp 362). Despite the rumor’s distance from the truth, it still grew into a monster born from our fears.
Once the rumor-monster has come to life, it takes control, driving the victims (or believers) to action. Chain letters, for example, that pose the threat such as: “if you don’t pass this to ten people in the next hour something bad will happen to you” posses many to hastily e-mail everyone in their contacts. Do we even try to use logic and think of what sort of “bad” possibilities could happen to us in the following hour? Do we think about how the people in control of the chain can possibly know our misdeed and trace where we are? But somehow that rationale completely escapes us. The rumor becomes the voice of fear that we follow. In his article, “How Rumors Help Us Make Sense of an Uncertain World,” Nicolas DiFronzo states “…rumor implies a course of action that—if available—will supposedly aid the hearer in avoiding a negative or achieving a positive out come” (381). In my fear of encountering another nun-ghost, my course of actions was to avoid the tennis court and never to wander the school alone. It is the same with the rumor years ago about the company, Procter & Gamble, being run by devil worshippers. Sandra Salman’s article, “Fighting that Old Devil Rumor,” explains how it started as a speculation and exploded to a huge rumor that caused much trouble for the company. The fear reflected by this rumor greatly affected the public, specifically Christians. Salmans claims, “The rumor-mongering also urges a Christian boycott of Procter’s products…” (Salmans 356). She also mentions anonymous fliers announcing P&G contributes to Satanic religion and many reports of ministers attacking them from the pulpit, and encouraging them to boycott their products...
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