Rumor Has it

Teacher expands upon why people spread rumors

Rumor Has it

Harrison Jones and Regan Byrnes

Rumors spread like wildfire, always have and always will. But what causes this? People are consistently obsessed with the idea of gossip and knowing secrets about other people they barely know. Philosophy and speech teacher Chris Riffer gives his insight on why people choose to start rumors and why people fixate on them so much.

“I think people enjoy news — they are curious. Rumors help feed [that] curiosity:  ‘What’s going on with this person?’” Riffer said. “I think that’s a basic primal part of the human brain.” 

So if rumors are so inherently human and ingrained into our society, then can gossip improve your social status? Riffer believes that not only can it help reputation, but it can inflame self-worth as well — even if it’s not positive.

“If you’re the subject of gossip, the idea that people are thinking of you is a nice boost to your ego, even if it’s in a negative light,” Riffer said. “There’s a saying out there that even bad attention is attention.”

Although teenagers are often grouped in the category of spreading the worst and most hurtful gossip, Riffer said while the gossip might die down as you get older, the rumors never seem to stop.

“I think the nature of the rumor has changed, but it doesn’t ever change [for] people of all ages,” Riffer said. “[I’m] dealing with my 83-year-old mother [who] talks to me about rumors in her retirement [home].” 

Riffer said priorities shift over time as world views evolve and as people age. 

Rumor spreading is a constant no matter the age. Though miraculously, some people are able to steer clear of any drama or rumors better than others

“It just depends on where they’re getting their satisfaction of their curiosity,” Riffer said. “If they’re fulfilling their curiosity in other areas rather than what other people are doing then they’re probably not as susceptible as you.” 

While not all rumor-spreading starts maliciously, it often grows and becomes that way as the rumor gets out of control. Individuals often don’t think about long-term repercussions in these situations, and before they know it, what started small is much bigger than previously imagined. 

“I think the number-one thing you should always do is approach any information — gossip, rumors, news — with a certain level of skepticism,” Riffer said. “That doesn’t mean you should be skeptical and not believe anything, but it does mean you should [research] stuff that doesn’t ring inherently true inside you.”