Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Rumor Mill

My co-worker Jesse Singal had an interesting article in this Sunday's Boston Globe's Ideas section. He talks about rumors and how they spread. It turns out that rumors are a lot like news and other things that could be facts. People trade them not with vicious intent, but rather tell people to try to figure out if they're true. Of course, Jesse places his story in the context of the election, but probably the best example is John Edwards' affair, which was rumored to be true for months but Edwards was finally forced to admit it was true. One of the really interesting things I thought was this:
Other than denying a rumor that's true, perhaps the biggest mistake one can make, DiFonzo and other researchers say, is to adopt a "no comment" policy: Numerous studies have shown that rumors thrive in environments of uncertainty. Considering that rumors often represent a real attempt to get at the truth, the best way to fight them is to address them in as comprehensive a manner as possible.
This makes sense to me. The answer "no comment" doesn't make any sense and whoever asked the question will just ask more people to see if he or she can get a better and more sensical answer. The whole Norm Colman press agent answer "The Senator has reported every gift he's ever received" line seems to fall along the lines of "no comment."

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