Rumors and their repercussions

Enya Eettickal, Staff Writer

Everyone has their pet peeves. And if you’re like me, you have multiple. But one of my biggest ones is empty gossip. Now I know what you’re thinking—everyone says that! But that has never stopped it from happening. But the reality is that empty gossip, while it may be baseless, still has severe consequences. I intend to assess the implications of that type of gossip as a means of understanding the degree to which it impacts communities. 

The type of gossip that I’m referring to here is very specific. Mind you, all gossip is problematic—don’t get me wrong. But there’s a distinct difference between empty gossip and legitimate gossip. Legitimate gossip is recounts of information to other people, and is a result of people sharing things they’ve seen and said to one another. While it’s not a good idea to do that—either because it’s not your business or because it can create unnecessary problems—it is nowhere near as bad as empty gossip. Empty gossip is essentially the same as rumors. These are statements or claims with no basis. Either it’s based on assumptions people are making or circumstances that just didn’t happen. And the consequences of that are so much worse. 

Oftentimes, people find it easy to dismiss empty gossip because of how ridiculous or petty it is, and that’s an understandable instinct. When you hear things that don’t make sense, it’s easy to discuss it without attributing weight to it. And many times the crazy things we hear are the things we find most fun to talk about. But that’s a big part of the danger and cause of this cycle of empty gossip.

After reading a book in one of my classes, I remembered how bad empty gossip and rumors can be. “Dead Souls” by Nikolai Gogol, a dark comedy, mocks the effects of gossip in a poignant way, to the point that it felt like a wake-up call. To save this article from becoming an English essay, I’ll spare you the quotes. But basically, it talks about how people will spread gossip as a way to say, “listen to this crazy stuff people are saying; how unbelievable!” But after it’s circulated, the same people will turn around and comment, “if people are talking about it, it must be true, right?” 

I don’t know exactly why, but the dichotomy it highlighted really spoke to me. The biggest issue with empty gossip is that it can become hard to identify what is real and what isn’t. Lies and truth can be blurred easily. 

The difference between factual truth and story truth is at play. While we all hope the truth to be a record of facts, that’s not always the case. Story truth is when enough people share information, people start to believe it as fact. And whether or not something is actually true, if enough people perceive it as accurate, there are consequences. The idea that people can make something seem true, even if it’s objectively false, is honestly terrifying. We rely on the truth to understand what to trust and what not to trust—therefore, empty gossip makes parsing information that much harder. 

So the question is, what’s the solution? Is there even a solution? And the answer is, not quite. But, there are preemptive measures you can take. For one, when you hear something you suspect is empty gossip, shut it down. Don’t engage, and don’t circulate it. Next, fact check and inform. If you’re hearing stuff about someone you know, ask them for their side of the story and see if things are true or not. And if you happen to be on the other end of empty gossip—as in people are talking about you—all you can do is set the record straight and confront the source. That’s really about all you can do. And honestly, going through these steps can be difficult. It takes conviction to not believe what’s told to you or to stand up for yourself. And it takes guts to ask people outright for their version of the story or to confront someone talking about you. However, in the long term, it’s the best thing you can do.