Part 1. Some Thoughts On Rumor Control
I’m going to break this post into two parts, offering some thoughts on rumor control and a couple of links, one which deals with rumor control from a governmental effort standpoint and the other which explains rumor control from a Christian viewpoint, but can easily be useful to anyone trying to deal with gossip, rumors and spin overload in their lives.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how there seems to be an almost complete absence or concern about the importance of rumor control by our elected leaders and among the hordes of SPIN wizards fueling our scorched earth SPIN information war, flaming across American media. I suspect most of our political leaders have no clue about how damaging whispering campaigns, smear campaigns and ramping up divisiveness can be to our national character and the morale of the American people.
Without wading into too many details, during Desert Storm, my husband, a career soldier, was assigned to a unit in Germany, that deployed from Germany to the Gulf. The Army had thousands of families living in Germany. One of the things I learned, first-hand, from that experience of being in a foreign country with many frightened wives and children is that rumors and panic spread like wildfire.
Rumors around the Army are a constant problem and the Army makes rumor control a command responsibility, because some rumors can cause confusion, dissension, and negatively impact morale. Rumors can have a devastating effect on the soldiers’ trust in their leadership. Ditto that for negative rumors about our elected leaders. Rumors in wartime can be extremely dangerous and damaging to national unity.
As rumors spread, panic quickly blew way out of proportion among many wives during Desert Storm. Due to the concerns about possible terrorist attacks against American family members in Germany, extraordinary security measures were put in place by the U.S. military, working with German officials. Once our husbands deployed to the Gulf, some of those extra security measures raised fears among many young wives. Our husbands going off to war also elevated fears, but along with that, the endless stream of rumors was an everyday source of fueling the wives gossip chain and fear. The endless stream of rumors is part of life around the Army, likewise the even crazier stream of rumors among wives, unfamiliar with the Army, became off-the-chain at times during Desert Storm.
Three of our kids were in elementary school and our youngest was still at home. I can’t remember exactly if it was one bomb threat or two that occurred at their school, but I remember there was also a bomb threat at a nearby military installation at the PX too.
Talking to the wife of my husband’s battalion commander, who was a teacher at that school, she related the chaos of trying to keep control of the children, as mothers from the nearby military housing area rushed to the school to grab their children. We lived in leased government housing in a German village several miles away, so my kids came home on the school bus after the bomb threat. I asked my kids what happened, because I’d already heard about it via other wives calling me. My kids were pretty nonchalant about the bomb threat. What happened to incite panic even more with Army wives was that many of them relied on neighbors or friends, who were operating off the latest feverish rumors. Often around the Army, there were young wives, unfamiliar with the Army and very distrustful of the Army, in general. They were most vulnerable to the devastating effect of rumors run amok. Crazy stories exploded with those bomb threats, but I heard plenty of other crazy stories (rumors) from wives.
The Army also left some soldiers in Germany to manage the rear detachment operations.
The Army had set up a family support system relying mostly on leaders’ wives to organize it and run it. Often wives called me for information, because my husband was the first sergeant, the senior NCO, in the company and his company commander was single, so I was the volunteer family support leader for the company. An odd rumor I remember was a wife, who was German, called me and she was convinced the Army was not giving her husband water in the Gulf and she wanted to know how she could send him water. I tried to reassure her that the Army needed her husband to be able to fight and would do everything possible to make sure he had water and food. Many times, I noticed that I heard about a hysterical wife, worked up about a rumor, from other wives calling me and telling me about her, before the hysterical wife even called me. Often those other wives were calling me to make sure the rumor wasn’t true. It was a frequent occurrence to get calls that were about rumors run amok.
This past week’s insane media hysteria with our escalating scorched earth SPIN information war and the Buzzfeed story, followed by the Mueller team pushback, made me think of that Desert Storm experience with rumors.
I also remembered a study, The Psychology of Rumor, I had heard mentioned various times in reading. I had never read the actual study, which was conducted by two Harvard psychology professors, Gordon W. Allport and Leo Postman, after WWII. A quick google search and I located the study available free online. I’ve been reading through this study about rumors, in general, and then more specifically rumors in wartime. They divided rumors into several different categories, for instance fear rumors were common, as were wish rumors about events people were yearning for, like the end of the war. They also identified the most damaging type of rumors as wedge drivers, which were rumors maligning certain groups in society or inciting hate.
I also have been thinking about a book, Stopping Words That Hurt:Positive Words In A World Gone Negative, by Dr. Michael D. Sedler, which I read a few years ago. This book is written from a Christian perspective, but honestly is very sound advice on how to work to stop “evil reporting” in your life:
“Evil report: When an individual maliciously injures, damages or discredits another’s reputation or character through the use of words or attitude.
If the intent is to hurt another person’s reputation, we must examine our motives.”
Sedler, Dr. Michael D.. Stopping Words That Hurt: Positive Words in a World Gone Negative (p. 16). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition
Dr. Sedler offers many fascinating Biblical examples of “evil reporting,” but also many everyday examples, that we all encounter. One of the things to consider in Sedler’s advice is he counsels that people work to not only stop being bearers of “evil reporting”, but to work to stop even listening to “evil reporting”. Pretty simple advice, but much harder to practice in our tabloid culture.
This book has been edited and republished under a different title, What To Do When Words Get Ugly.
Our SPIN information war thrives on spreading wedge driver rumors and “evil reporting”.