In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rumor and Communication

  • Introduction
  • Overviews and Key Texts
  • Early Texts and Histories
  • Conceptualization
  • Belief
  • Transmission
  • Accuracy and Distortion
  • Conspiracy Theories
  • Health and Risk
  • Organizational
  • Propaganda
  • Intergroup Stereotyping and Conflict
  • Journalism and Fake News
  • Prevention and Management

Communication Rumor and Communication
by
Nicholas DiFonzo
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0246

Introduction

An ocean of rumors, hearsay, half-truths, fake news, factoids, speculations, and conspiracy theories engulfs us. Rumor is a pervasive characteristic of human communication, a quintessentially social activity in service of making meaning. It is not surprising then that rumor has attracted attention from ancient peoples, from a wide array of scholarly disciplines (e.g., psychology, communication, political science, sociology, philosophy, literature, mathematics, computer science) and from a varied assortment of practice-oriented specializations (e.g., medicine, law, defense, politics, journalism, intelligence, marketing, management, finance, public relations). The intensity of interest in rumor has risen of late in exponential fashion amidst polarized political landscapes, reduced trust in institutional authorities (e.g., the academy, government, business, and the press), the ever-increasing ubiquity of the Internet, and a general lassitude about the concept of truth. This annotated bibliography reflects thinking and research about foundational issues inherent in rumor research (e.g., What is rumor?), features of rumor activity that have attracted longstanding attention (e.g., Why do people believe and transmit rumors? How do they become more accurate or more distorted?), and current areas of active inquiry (e.g., conspiracy theories, rumors about health and risk, organizational rumors, propaganda, intergroup stereotyping and conflict, journalism and fake news, and the prevention and management of harmful rumors).

Overviews and Key Texts

Familiarizing oneself with any interdisciplinary research domain can be a daunting task. DiFonzo and Bordia 2007 is a useful starting place for an overview of social psychological research on rumor. Fine, et al. 2005 is an excellent collection of key essays on rumor from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Bordia and DiFonzo 2004 is a landmark study capturing the interactive, complex, and interactive nature of rumor activity using Internet rumor discussions. Rosnow 1991 shapes the dominant understanding of psychological factors involved in rumor transmission. Shibutani 1966 is a milestone work that molded sociological treatments of rumor.

  • Bordia, P., and N. DiFonzo. 2004. Problem solving in social interactions on the Internet: Rumor as social cognition. Social Psychology Quarterly 67.1: 33–49.

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    Groundbreaking investigation of group properties of rumor communication over time. Content-analyzes statements communicated in fourteen online computer-mediated rumor discussions using the Rumor Interaction Analysis System. Rumor discourse consisted of a typology of voices (“communicative postures”) in service of group sensemaking (e.g., hypothesizing, skeptical critique, information-reporting). Temporal analysis also explored stages of rumor problem-solving discourse.

  • DiFonzo, N., and P. Bordia. 2007. Rumor psychology: Social and organizational approaches. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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    A key summary of theory and research about rumor primarily written from a social psychological perspective. It addresses questions about the conceptualization of rumor, their prevalence, typologies, why people spread them, why they are believed, how they become more (and less) accurate over time, and how to prevent and neutralize harmful ones. Presents a detailed research agenda that is still useful for researchers.

  • Fine, G. A., V. Campion-Vincent, and Heath, C. 2005. Rumor mills: The social impact of rumor and legend. London: Transaction.

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    Eclectic set of insightful essays on rumors and legends primarily by scholars in folklore, psychology, and sociology but also drama, narratology, anthropology, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and history. These essays explore rumor’s role in heightening conflict, the mechanisms and motivations of rumor spread, and how responses to rumor inform us about cultural and group narratives and structures. Examines questions about how rumors relate to truth, belief, evidence, politics, and power.

  • Rosnow, R. L. 1991. Inside rumor: A personal journey. American Psychologist 46.5: 484–496.

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    Important text nicely summarizing the development of rumor theory and research after Allport and Postman 1947 (cited under Early Texts and Histories). Based on a consideration and meta-analysis of empirical research, Rosnow concludes that rumor transmission results from a combination of personal anxiety, a general sense of uncertainty, credulity (trust in the rumor), and outcome-relevant involvement (importance to the participant). This model continues to guide modern empirical rumor research.

  • Shibutani, T. 1966. Improvised news: A sociological study of rumor. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill.

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    Classic text that approaches rumor from a primarily sociological perspective. Rooted in evidence from detailed case studies of Japanese groups during World War II, Shibutani proposes that when formal information is absent, groups compensate by informally interpreting the situation (i.e., rumor is improvised news). The text is especially important for later conceptualizations of how groups caught in a crisis make sense of a situation and is an example of an approach to rumor at the group level of analysis.

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