Rumour has it…
Bangladesh has over 25 million active Facebook users and the number is rising. Thanks to access to the Internet, personal publishing such as microblogging (or a Facebook status- a short message that can be posted and shared with an audience online) is prevalent.
Social media has brought about a fundamental change in traditional political communication, which previously had been exclusively initiated and managed by specific actors such as politicians and journalists. Facebook is now an active site and mode of transmission.
As regards recent events, the word 'gujob' or rumour has been the salient feature. Gujob, gujob everywhere, in form and in content. And I thought that the relationship between politics, rumours and social media warrants a discussion.
So, what is a rumour? According to academics, (yes, rumours do feature in academic perusal) it is an item of circulating information, whose veracity status is yet to be verified at the time of circulation.
Rumours are generally classified into pipe dream rumours, that express the wishes of the society in which they are circulating, bogie rumours, that arise from anxiety and increase fear, and wedge driving rumours, that generate hatred.
Rumours can be further classified temporally, into new rumours that emerge during breaking news, and long - standing rumours that are discussed for long periods of time.
There are five parties involved in a rumour dissemination: the creators, the spreaders, the ignorants, the stiflers, and the refuters. The creators are individuals who actively ‘manufacture’ the rumour, the spreaders then proliferate it, the stiflers have heard the rumour but they do not spread it, the ignorants have not heard the rumour and hence they are susceptible to be informed, while the refuters strive to debunk, invalidate or discredit the rumour.
Political misinformation and disinformation often take the form of rumours, as they are collective transactions in which information is offered, evaluated, and interpreted, and upon which predictions are made.
Research has revealed that information dissemination is driven by emotions. Therefore, rumours almost always abound when a newsworthy event occurs, and the rumour literature has illustrated that rumours spread particularly in times of conflict, crisis, and catastrophic occurrences, as in those which are mostly characterized by negative emotions.
This is on account of the phenomenon known as “negativity bias”, whereby there exists the innate predisposition to give greater weight to negative entities (events, objects or personal traits).
If the content of a rumour evokes high-arousal, or activating, positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions, it is more viral, while the content that evokes low-arousal, or deactivating, emotions (sadness) is less viral.
Rumours are also more likely to spread if they produce identifiable emotions such as disgust. When researchers compared the emotional content of the responses to true and false rumours, they found that truth produced greater sadness, trust, and anticipation, while falsehoods produced greater surprise and disgust.
Rumours are driven by two important factors: importance and informational ambiguity. As noted earlier, emotions are intertwined with rumour dissemination, and the importance of a rumour is correlated to the anxiety emotion.
It is posited that the amount of rumour in circulation will vary with the importance of the subject matter of the rumour to the recipients, and the importance is related to anxiety, as the greater the anxiety, the more the content of rumour is important for the recipients.
In this anxiety-based formulation, the rumour is conceptualized as a verbal or textual outlet to release emotional pressure (anxiety or concern) by rationalizing ambiguous information. Given the negativity bias, rumours travel faster in high-anxiety groups than in low-anxiety ones.
In social media, political rumour manufacturers consider emotions when crafting viral content, as the intention is to trigger as great a contagion as possible using emotional words and framing, and using photographs and videos to elicit negativity bias, high arousal and high anxiety.
With the number of active Facebook users on the rise, and an increasingly heated political landscape, unless there are strong measures to counter rumours, the gujob that everyone is talking and writing about will only create chaos, confusion, and possible devastation.
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.