Post No.: 0599
Gossip is a form of social currency and may be used to socially coordinate with other members of our group or clique. It is also used as a way of elevating our status by showing that we’re in the know about things that are going on in and around our social circles. Information is power, thus being perceived as a fount of information on what others have been up to signals our social worth to our group.
Gossip can also be used to try to figure out what’s socially acceptable (keeping on the same page as others in our group), and is often used to make us feel better about ourselves if we hear that someone else is in a worse situation than us (putting things into perspective).
We might go further though and suggest that someone else is guiltier or more extreme in behaviour than us (justifying ourselves). Thus gossip can be used to give oneself a perceived sense of superiority over those we gossip about. We might put others down to try to diminish their achievements and to try to make ourselves appear better in comparison – and we want to make sure everybody knows about it. There is also the fear of missing out when we constantly try to catch the airwaves of gossip.
People’s individual reputations are important within their social groups and gossip is a way of spreading information and keeping others in the loop about other people’s behaviours and thus reputations. However, not all that’s spread is truthful, some information may be private and confidential, and the gossiper is bound to be biased about presenting her/himself in a good light in one-sided accounts of events!
Bitching and spreading rumours about people behind their backs – whether true or fair or not – might help strengthen the bonds between those who are in on the bitching and rumours, but they are divisive when it comes to intergroup relationships because people are almost inevitably bitching and spreading rumours about members of outgroups or people they don’t want in their ingroups, than members of their own groups or people from groups they aspire to be a part of. It’s easier to pin blames on and damage the reputations of those who aren’t there to defend themselves.
Gossip is okay when we’re sharing problems and keeping up to date with others, but not for putting others down in order to elevate ourselves socially or to insidiously stoke divisions or spread one-sided stories. Although unquestioningly trusting our ingroup members demonstrates our loyalty towards them, and we’d, perhaps biasedly, need less proof to be convinced that, say, a distant colleague did something wrong than if one’s closest friend was accused of doing the exact same thing, all else being equal – when people’s reputations are being judged, we should really only trust in solid proof rather than hearsay.
Two people gossiping can sometimes be worse than more than two people gossiping because there’ll likely be less diversity of views. And the problem with people who gossip and bitch to you about others behind their backs is that they highly likely gossip and bitch to others about you behind your back too! Thus if you gossip frequently about others behind their backs, people might not trust you with their secrets and private information. Also, if you seem to have beef or problems with a lot of different people then consider that the common factor, cause or problem might be you? For instance, if you think that ‘all women/men are scoundrels’ then it speaks of the narrow types of women/men you choose to date or the fact that you in particular seem to drive women/men to be that way, maybe?! Logically, the greatest fuzzy bitch would be the person who likes to call lots of other people bitches! Meow!
False rumours can spread contagiously from person-to-person out from mere conjectures, lies or assumptions. So an erroneous belief can become a long-standing misperception amongst a group over time. Although we generally say we believe in the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ – few of us actually behave in that way. This is possibly because the perceived or real risk of letting our guard down with a person who was actually guilty would be far worse than staying away from a person who was actually innocent. And this is why slander or libel can be incredibly unfairly damaging. Unless a false rumour is explicitly retracted by the person who first made it, and every single person who, either directly or indirectly, heard that rumour hears about this retraction, then lasting damage will be done.
There are many other examples of situations where people’s self-reported attitudes don’t match their actual behaviours, such as in the moral dilemma of whether to leave a runaway trolley to run over three people or to opt to change the tracks so that it only runs over one person – here, most people say that they’d never choose to cause a death via their own actions but, in simulations, most people would actually physically change the tracks to make the utilitarian choice. We don’t know ourselves as well as we think. Or we cannot always match the standards we ourselves believe we should all meet.
We tend to first wish to avoid pain then secondarily seek pleasure, in this order, hence we’re more ready to believe in rumours that involve fear or wrongdoing than in rumours of good deeds, especially if they involve outgroup members. Reputations are therefore hard to build but easy to dismantle. Contending political sides will try to paint the other side as the riskier proposition more than try to articulate their own side’s virtues, or even policies.
Due to ‘source amnesia’, we can far more easily remember hearing a rumour than remember the source or context that it was originally said too. We might therefore sense that a rumour sounds familiar but cannot recall why, hence we can forget that the source could’ve been unreliable.
Once we’ve metaphorically slapped a banner over someone’s head that says ‘watch out for this one’ – confirmation bias then comes into play so that one will read any ambiguous signal that could be interpreted as one being correct as one being correct. A lot of people – especially those who prefer to rely on their intuitions rather than evidence – unwittingly believe in a lot of unproven or false conjectures and unsubstantiated gossip because they confuse inductions with deductions or rely on the ad populum fallacy or other fallacies without realising their logical errors, biases or fallacious reasonings. Just because we may believe in something, that belief alone won’t make it true, even though it feels like it is or should be true to us, or even to our entire group or clique no matter how many people believe in it because of the echo chamber effect, which is exacerbated by social media nowadays.
Social media is where plenty of gossip is shared and spread, and at a level and accessibility like never before. And the fear of missing out on any juicy gossip means that lots of people are hooked on scrolling through social media for hours each day. They may look back on their time spent perusing feeds and realise that they’ve actually missed very little of importance – but FOMO means that they don’t want to take that risk of missing something scandalous or salacious, just in case.
Gossip magazines, tabloids or websites and clickbait articles are extremely popular because many people are desperate to know what celebrities are up to – even though you can’t trust everything you read when it especially comes to these kinds of sources and stories, and even though the insatiable demand has led to cases where the media has tormented certain celebrities and inappropriately pried into their private lives to the point where the paparazzi has ravaged their mental health.
If I spread a rumour that cat x from y is a dirty z – at least some cats who trust me more than know that cat will start to interpret every ambiguous behaviour of cat x as potential proof of them being z. Unsubstantiated rumours can start off as assumptions, as a result of jumping to conclusions, which are in turn based on biases like judging by appearances, racism, sexism or otherwise judging someone with overly-broad strokes just because they’re apparently different. Or they can start off as a result of their rivalry to us, as competitors to us or some other personal motive, so we might smear someone’s reputation based on their political differences to us, for instance. So it can be an implicit or explicit bias, and an unintentional or deliberate act. The spread of fake/false news is as old as gossip and rumours.
In any kind of context, we’d be smarter individuals to employ critical thinking and to ultimately care for seeking hard evidence before jumping to any firm conclusions. Too many of us in this world believe in whatever we want to believe – but whatever we believe about others without hard evidence and critical thinking only speaks the truth of ourselves, not of whom we judge, because our judgements and opinions would naturally reveal our own biases. But we confuse our own opinions as facts. We say, “That’s true” to matters that aren’t about truth and falsehood but about our particular point of view.
…In short, hardly all gossip is harmful, much of it is socially useful, we often say nice things about people behind their backs too and it can unite a group – but gossip can also be highly corrosive in society. It is a social currency that can strengthen one’s bond within one’s ingroup but at the same time can divisively exclude others from the group. People who routinely talk behind your back to others about your private life – even if not considered secretive – also lack consideration and trust, and perhaps interesting things to talk about that’s happening in their own lives.
Gossipers might seem great to us when they’re sharing other people’s secrets with us behind their backs but can you trust them, not only with what they share with you but with your own private information? Their past record suggests that they’ll gossip to others about your secrets behind your back. It’s like someone who cheats on their partner to have an affair with you might seem flattering to you, but why should you be attracted to a cheat?(!) Their past record suggests that they’ll one day cheat on you for someone else!
It’s unjust for us to trust in any gossip or rumours without first asking to hear from the other side of the story too or without demanding supporting justification or proof. The courts require evidence and (to at least give a chance) to hear from all sides of a story before a judge or jury can form a judgement. The key is to never solidify any judgements based on hearsay or hunch, whether good or bad, without irrefutable proof or a fair trial. So have you sought for and listened to the other person’s side of the story? Have you found hard evidence to support the rumours or at least cross-referenced the rumours with independent sources? Don’t just blindly believe in what you read or hear from anyone – including from your own peers or clique members – without ideally unambiguous proof or a direct non-coerced confession from the accused party in question. It’d also be more responsible to not spread loose conjectures or gossip to others without making it clear that it’s just conjecture or gossip with which you have no hard evidence to support or to present.
Meow. I’m not a big gossiper, but I’ve heard that the cat from house number 23 is. If you want to know more about what she’s been saying about everyone here then get in touch with me via the Twitter comment button below. (Joke!)