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Do rumors spread our underlying prejudices?

Diana Moukalled

Published: Updated:

A few days ago, my Facebook newsfeed received many posts condemning Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ alleged statements in praise of Russia’s military role in Syria. I did not check the validity of this news and pressed the “like” button to express that I agree with my friends’ condemnation and criticism of Abbas’ position. I almost also wrote a comment criticizing it.

However, a few hours later, a friend clarified, again on Facebook, that the alleged statement by Abbas was a rumor and a fabricated piece of news. This brought to mind a Chinese proverb which says: “A rumor stops at the wise man”. It seems that this friend was the wise man who double-checked the news and exposed it as a lie when I and many others did not do so.

The effect of rumors on public figures certainly varies. Experiences have shown that the public does not easily believe negative statements by figures whose image is largely positive. When it comes to such figures, recipients often feel they must check the validity of negative news as it may affect the perfect image they have in mind.

However, rumors and false news are easy to believe when they harmonize with the existing or prior flawed image of public figures. In Abbas’ case, his image, his stances and particularly his previous statements, commending the Russian role in the region, played a decisive factor in spreading the rumor.

We are living in an era of excessive electronic social communication, which not only reflects the dynamics of technology but also a new pattern of cultural communication

Diana Moukalled

It takes only few seconds for news to circulate on social media. They spread quickly but also regress and die out because of fading interest or when they are found out to be fake. We are living in an era of excessive electronic social communication, which not only reflects the dynamics of technology but also a new pattern of cultural communication.

It is no longer important what rumors on Facebook and Twitter say. What matters now is the uproar caused by these rumors and the reactions that follow. In the case of the alleged statement attributed to Abbas, people’s reactions went as far as repudiating the support of Palestinian rights.

On occasions, rumors stir prejudices and expose hostility that’s far worse than the news which led to these reactions in the first place. The rumor thus seems to act as a means to tell more about people and expose their real biases and stances. People refuse to believe what harms those they love but seek to destroy those they hate.

Using judgment

There is no clear rule to deal with rumors other than using one’s own judgment and double-checking what we read before believing it completely. This may look like a simple idea but is the best way to deal with rumors, which get more complicated as communication and interaction technologies continue to develop.

Years ago, media outlets used to play an important role in tackling rumors but this has weakened today. In fact, the same media outlets sometimes fall into the trap of these rumors circulating on social media and even give them more momentum.

As far as Arab media outlets are concerned, many of them participate in spreading rumors and disseminating misleading news, which grants infinite material to social media platforms. As we continue to discover online social networking it seems beneficial to adhere to the Chinese proverb that calls for a little wisdom in the face of spreading lies.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 15, 2016.
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Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.