Category Archives: rumor management

Dispelling Rumors and Myths–why it is so tricky

Thanks to our good friend Eric Holdeman, I read this article about the persistence of myths by Shankar Vedantam of the Washington Post in the Sept 4 edition. If you are in communications, you NEED to read this article.

It will make you rethink how you need to respond to rumors, misinformation and false accusations–a topic that was discussed at my presentation with the Midwest ISO today.

A few key points in case you don’t read it:

– False statements will be remembered as true even when you say they are false. (“I am not a crook” turned out to be essentially heard and remembered as “I am a crook.” That’s why, as Eric points out, don’t deny a rumor by saying “Despite the accusations I did not beat my wife,” you should say, “I love my wife.” Don’t repeat the false information in its false form or you will be seen as the source of the false information and it will be believed as true. If you don’t believe me, read the article.

This may lead you conclude, reasonably, that when confronted with a myth, accusation or misinformation, it is better to ignore it. Not true. Here’s one quote from the article: “The research also highlights the disturbing reality that once an idea has been implanted in people’s minds, it can be difficult to dislodge. Denials inherently require repeating the bad information, which may be one reason they can paradoxically reinforce it. “

But the problem is that “a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.” The research demonstrates that. “Indeed, repetition seems to be a key culprit. Things that are repeated often become more accessible in memory, and one of the brain’s subconscious rules of thumb is that easily recalled things are true. “

So, if you deny a rumor by repeating it, you are in trouble. If you do not deny it, you are in trouble. It sounds like the only response to this is have a consistent, powerful, positive message that contradicts the false information and is repeated until you are ready to go nuts.

"Blogwars," rumors and other dangers of the Internet

Frequent readers of this blog know that dealing with online attacks and rumors is one of my favorite topics. It appears the concern is going a little more mainstream, because here is an excellent story on the phenomenon in the Seattle Times.

Some excellent tips in this article useful to crisis managers and communicators. These include the use of  “truth filter” sites (this is what I called them in my book in 2001) such as www.snopes.com and wikipedia. Also discussed is the use of a rumor response section on a website. While there is certainly the point of not wanting to feed a rumor that may be weak or dying, in my view, more mistakes have been made in not addressing these quickly, aggressively and directly enough so they take on a life that was not necessary. “A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.” And I’ll repeat that a few more times.