Spreading Rumors Essay

Social media rumors have been around as long as the Internet and hoaxes have spread from email to chat rooms and networking sites. With this quirk of social networking space, we can learn a lot from the mistakes of others. It’s only takes a second to click that share button but how do you know what you are reading and sharing is true? If you’re sharing a post that seems highly suspicious without at least checking Snopes.com or googleing it, you’re doing a disservice to your followers and yourself.

Businesses can learn a lot from common social media rumors and hoaxes today and the impact they have on the users of these networks. Are you spreading rumors or are you making sure you verify your facts and cite your sources before posting to your networks?

Let’s take a look at some of the most common social media rumors hitting networks today:

  1. Celebrity Deaths– We’ve all heard them; anyone on a social media network has seen the rumors of celebrity deaths. Justin Bieber has been one of the most common celebrity death hoax victims in history of the Internet. Other recent victims include Adam Sandler, Aretha Franklin, Charlie Sheen, Bill Cosby, Lindsay Lohan, Nick Jonas and Taylor Swift. You probably see a trend in famous celebrities or controversial celebrities being picked for death hoaxes. One theory behind this is the “haters” of the celebrity launch a viral campaign against them by claiming they have died and spreading the rumors throughout the Internet.
  2. Chain Mail– Chain mail is no longer reserved for our email inboxes. It spreads faster on social media than it ever did before. People just can’t help but hitting that “share” button or “retweet” button when they see something that interests them. Many chain mail rumors spread on social media promise you a reward of some sort and others claim that a child is missing or an animal is being abused. Most are proven false. These types of rumors tug at the heartstrings of the user, making them want to share to “make a difference” or to have a shot at winning something.
  3. Presidential Rumors– Nearly everyone wants to know something about the President. Presidential hoaxes have included Bill Cosby for President 2012, Presidential IQ hoaxes, That President Obama was in the “Whoomp There It Is” video, that Obama gave part of Arizona to Mexico and many more.
  4. Falsities about the Social Network– Facebook has been one of the most commonly affected by rumors about their platform. Who remembers the rumors spread about how Facebook would start charging members to use its platform? Members were told to spread the message that Facebook would no longer be free and it spread like wildfire.
  5. Social experiments– Some rumors are set in motion on purpose just to see what will happen. Take Washington Post sports reporter Mike Wise for example. Wise was suspended after he posted a false news story about Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He claimed it was a social experiment to see how quickly a false rumor could spread throughout Twitter but it ended in a one-month suspension from his job and loss of respect of many followers who trusted him with their sports news. 

All of these examples can teach us something about the power of social media. It’s not a plaything or a toy to be used however you wish, especially if you are in a position of leadership on the Web. If people come to your site or social profile in search of advice or information, they are trusting that information is true (with the exception being The Onion).

While businesses will continue to experiment with social media, these experiments should not come at the expense of the user or your reputation. Your audience is not meant to be guinea pigs to help you answer your questions about social media. Build trust in your audience and they will return again and again to see what you have to say.

Social media is a powerful tool; are you using it correctly? Stay tuned to Social Media Sun where we give you tips, tricks and try to separate the actions that will almost always bring positive results from actions that hold no guarantees, or even worse – actions that guarantee negative results. Do you pause when you read something that just doesn’t sound right? If so, do you try to debunk it, and alert others to a lie?

Lisa Clark

Lisa Clark is a Social Media Consultant and writer with more than 12 years experience. She helps brands connect with their target audience online. You can see Lisa's work at Social Media Satisfied and book your own special media solutions, or contact her on Twitter.

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There is this girl at school, and we don't really get along. She keeps spreading rumors about me and people are turning against me. What should I do?
– Sam*

Some people spread rumors as a way to intimidate others and gain status or popularity. But spreading rumors as a way to turn people against someone is a form of bullying — and it can have serious consequences for the person doing it.

Spreading unkind gossip in person or online is not a decent or mature way to act. It hurts the person being talked about, and it intimidates other people.

Sadly, when other people see this kind of thing going on, they don't always stand up for what's right. They may become less friendly to the person who is being talked about because they're afraid of becoming the next target. It doesn't mean they don't care. In fact, seeing someone else getting bullied makes other people feel bad. Bullying is like meanness pollution. It affects everyone in the environment.

We don't have to be good friends with everyone — or even like everyone. But not liking another person doesn't give someone the right to spread rumors, gossip, or putdowns. Acting like this shows a lack of courage. It's a false way to gain popularity or status in the group.

Real popularity comes from feeling comfortable with ourselves. People who are truly well liked treat everyone with respect and fairness. They don't put other people down or try to gain power by having "followers." They're confident and sure of themselves, so they don't have to resort to this kind of behavior.

So what can you do if you find yourself the target of rumors and social bullying?

Turn to a trusted adult for support. Talk to someone you can confide in, like a parent, teacher, school counselor, or coach. Let that person know what you're going through. Keep him or her up to date on what's going on, even as things start to get better. A trusted adult confidante can help you feel more supported and less alone. Plus, adults can take steps to put a stop to the rumors and gossip.

Find your friends. Find a friend or two who will stick by you and who won't listen to rumors. If you want, share how you feel with those friends. Don't dwell on the situation, though. Spend time and energy having fun with your friends and doing activities you enjoy.

Speak up. Consider speaking to the girl who's spreading rumors. If you can, approach her. Calmly say something like, "I know we don't get along. You don't have to like me, but you need to stop spreading rumors about me and talking behind my back." Don't be angry or mean. Avoid yelling. Just say what you want calmly, clearly, assertively, and maturely. After you've said what you want, you can simply walk away. There's no need to wait for her to say anything back. Leave her to think about what you said.

Before you try talking to the girl, though, talk with an adult about what to say and how to approach her. Every situation is different, and you want to make sure things don't turn into more meanness, yelling, or fighting. It can also help to have a friend stand with you when you talk to the girl.

Care for yourself. Do things that strengthen your confidence and positive feelings. Going through a situation like this can be difficult and painful. Gather your inner strength, get support from people who care, focus on positive things, and believe in yourself. These things can help you go through a difficult situation and come out stronger.

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.

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