Rumors are often believed by people to flourish in an environment of news blackouts and information famines, and thus, assumed to them diminish in an era of information overload. But the opposite seems to be the case. In contemporary information society, rumors seem to arise not from lack of information, but from an information overload (Kimmel, 2004).
In today’s globalization age characterized by liquidity and flows, information has become “liquid” and can swiftly penetrate the various domains of social life (Ritzer, 2010). Liquidity is a metaphor used by some globalists to explain the growing flexibility and mobility of things that is brought about by the current processes of globalization.
Liquidity simply means that things, information and places are increasingly becoming light and thus easy to move from one location to another. Like water, “liquids” can easily “flow” to different locations with the capacity to change their form in order to adapt to the environment.
With today’s globalization and technological innovation, almost all things have become so fluid and light that they travel in various spaces in blinding speed. In a similar manner, news, “fake news,” “alternative facts,” e-rumors, e-gossip, and other forms of content now mounted on digital and electronic platforms in the cyberspace flow like running water or liquid that penetrates dimensions almost all dimensions of social life. Corporate organizations are not spared from this tsunami of information that besieges the market and the workplace.
As information is easily and freely created, traded, edited, and manipulated to suit one’s interests, the veracity of their content declines resulting in the difficulty to know which news are “real,” “fake,” or “improvised” such as rumors and gossip. With information overload and the constant bombardment of the mind with unverified information from the Internet, people are deprived of the luxury of time and immediate means to swiftly investigate whether the posts, news, or information they received from and passed on to other people are totally or partially true or false. This also happens during crisis or emergency situations when information is absent or lacking to ascertain the truth. Knowledge means control. In business settings, sufficient information is good for managers and the corporate organizations they handle to achieve higher productivity and profit.
Rumors and gossip do not normally emerge in moments of certainty where the corporate organization runs smoothly, but usually during times of crisis and unexpected change in the day-to-day operations of the company. Thus, rumors usually abound when a business firm faces or experiences bankruptcy, leadership change, mergers, buyouts, financial losses, labor problems or restructuring.
For instance, when Twitter faces a buyout by other firms, rumors spread like a wildfire. When news leaked that Twitter will be the takeover target of the giant companies in September 2016, whispers were immediately and spread in the cyberspace. News spread that the engine company Google (Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL, Tech30), would take over the company, pushing the stock value of Twitter to 20% rise. But since no immediate confirmation came from Google, more speculations arise.
CNBC mentioned that the business software company Salesforce.com might also be looking to buy Twitter, but no clarification what benefits Twitter would bring to this transaction. Later, other rumors surfaced that Verizon (VZ, Tech30) might be bidding for Twitter as well, but Verizon denied the speculation. Since no accurate information to rely on of who would buy Twitter, the rumors continued.
The Media companies News Corp (NWSA) and 21st Century Fox (FOXA) — both controlled by Rupert Murdoch — have been cited as possible Twitter acquirers too. So has NBC parent company Comcast (CMCSA) as well as the Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer — who are two of Twitter’s largest shareholders — could team up to take the company private. Again, in the absence of certainty, more rumors surfaced saying that the influential Silicon Valley investors Marc Andreessen and Silver Lake Partners could team up to buy Twitter and so on (La Monica, 2016, 23 Sep).
This case of Twitter buyout shows that rumors can immediately spin and become uncontrollable if no convincing and reliable information is available.
The sociologist Tomatsu Shibutani notes that rumors or other forms of unverified information or “fake news” arise from uncertainty, from the absence of context and concrete information by which those affected by a crisis may understand its significance:
“When activity is interrupted for want of adequate information, frustrated [people] must piece together some kind of definition, and rumor is the collective transaction through which they try to fill this gap. Far from being pathological, rumor is part and parcel of the efforts of [people] to come to terms with the exigencies of life (Doorley & Garcia, 2007).”
Thus, rumors for Shibutani are “improvised news,” a tentative information created by people who are affected by uncertainty in order to gain control and to make sense of ambiguous situations or crises.
GIF Credits: Giphy.com
Thank you for reading this post. subscribe or follow this blog for more updates.
About the Author:
Dr. Vivencio (Ven) O. Ballano is Associate Professor V of the Sociology Department of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in Manila. In 2011, he obtained his doctoral degree in Sociology from the Ateneo de Manila University. He was chosen Post-Doctoral Research Fellow of the Southeast Asian Studies Research Exchange Program (SEASREP). He is the author of the book Sociological Perspectives on Media Piracy in the Philippines and Vietnam published by Springer Singapore in 2016. Dr. Ballano’s specialized areas of teaching and research include sociology of law, religion, disaster management, corporate organization, and the Catholic Social Teaching. His current projects and interests include writing monographs and articles on rumors and gossip in corporate settings and the Catholic Social Teaching, as well as doing sociological research on film piracy and illegal camcording in the Philippines.