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Rumours: Why it spreads – A Sociological analysis

  • IASbaba
  • April 17, 2020
  • 0
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SOCIETY/ GOVERNANCE/ ETHICS

Topic: General Studies 1, 2 & 4:

  • Salient features of Indian Society- communalism, regionalism & secularism. 
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors 

Rumours: Why it spreads – A Sociological analysis

Context: COVID-19 crisis and the ensuing lockdown has led to emergence of unsubstantiated rumours being spread through various media

Do You Know?

  • Emergence of Nizamuddin (New Delhi) as the hotspot of Coronavirus led to fake news about the origin of disease leading to communalisation of pandemic
  • In 1984, during Delhi Sikhs pogrom, there were rumours entire water supply was poisoned
  • During late 18th century Paris, there were rumours that the rich had distributed lethal, contaminated flour to the poor

A rumour is an untested piece of information, opinion, report or story. 

Some of the features of rumours are:

  • It must have an element of truth that makes it believable for the listener/reader. 
  • It neglects reason and is loaded with passion/emotion
  • Interlinkage between social anxiety & rumours: It occurs in a societal context where there is either an information void or an information overload – usually during a crisis like war, pandemic, social unrest etc.
  • It is deliberately planted by few but derives authority largely from a mob 

Immediate Consequence of rumours

  • Scapegoating a community (usually a minority) leading to a Polarised society
  • Social boycott of individual/groups of people
  • Violence and arson which might lead to lynching and murder.

Why rumours circulate?

  • Crisis situation leads to anxiety & panic among people. 
  • Psychological inclination: In times of acute crisis, people who are already disturbed often incline towards knee jerk speculation and prejudice.
  • Passion dominates Reason: An anxious mind neglects all evidence and instead surrenders to rumours, often in the service of emotional need
  • Need for an enemy: A group consisting of ‘outsiders’, already distrusted and disliked, becomes an easy target for rumours, ready to be blamed for the crisis.
  • Cascading effect of rumours: A belief gets entrenched after like-minded people discuss it among themselves leading to easy spread of rumours
  • Group Dynamics: Rather than face sanction and ostracisation for having different opinion, people find it safer to follow other members of their group.
  • Lack of scientific temper: A denial by a mistrusted outsider, no matter how great her expertise, only ends up solidifying rumour
  • Inevitable: Since societies can never be fully informed or secure, rumours are inevitable and in times of acute crisis, they are a menace.
  • Sensationalization of news: The emergence of commercial news media often sensationalises events for grabbing audience attention.
  • Anonymous nature of Social Media: The emergence of social media has made the task of spreading fake news by vested interests much easier as they can exploit the open ended nature of internet

Way Ahead

  • Regulatory laws to check rumours are needed to create deterrence 
  • Community leaders and democratically elected office holders must play a crucial role in halting rumours through regular communication
  • Long term measures
    • Depolarising society
    • Developing scientific temper so as to loosen the grip of prejudice in society

Connecting the dots:

  • Infodemics
  • Should Social media be regulated?
  • Need for a public broadcaster

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