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
- 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:
- Should Social media be regulated?
- Need for a public broadcaster