Blog: Ask Professor Nick

Dread Internet Rumors

Professor DiFonzo,

I’m a graduate student at [a] Journalism School. I’m currently researching a paper on internet rumor, and read your 2004 article in the Social Psychology Quarterly. I’m interested to hear if you’ve done further research in the area since then along with your views on the rise of sites such as Facebook. In your 2004 piece, you also mentioned that people were, generally speaking, more hesitant (at the outset at least) to spread a ‘dread’ rumor than a ‘wish’ one; I wonder if you think this is still the case, or whether things have changed somewhat.

Many thanks for your time.

Regards,

[Graduate Student in Journalism]

Dear Graduate Student in Journalism:

Facebook and sites like these offer a great way to study the network on which many rumors flow. Bernard Brooks, a math professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, and his student David Longo collected data on Facebook sites at RIT (5222 people) and have mapped the network. We plan to simulate rumor flow over this network. Here is a personal network from within that collection:

Among the interesting findings from this research is that the average number of “steps” from one Facebook page to another in this network was between 3 and 4. This is an example of the well-known small-world effect (a network is more tightly connected than we would ordinarily suppose given the number of people in the network).

One’s hesitation about spreading a dread rumor generally stems from the reluctance to spread bad news–no-one likes to be the bearer of bad tidings. However, when the recipient is a friend and that bad news may bear upon him or her, people tend to be more likely to spread the dread rumor. So friendship may moderate the tendency to spread dread versus wish rumors. If you are interested in dread rumors, be sure to read Walker, C. J., & Blaine, B. (1991). The virulence of dread rumors: A field experiment. Language and Communication, 11, 291-297.

Hope this helps!

–ProfNick

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One CommentAdd your own

  1. Milo Wibs |
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    Why is it so difficult to keep a secret?

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