Like hot wings and Nicholas Cage movies, rumors are most satisfying in small quantities. Spreading one successfully requires a keen understanding of human behavior and thoughtful timing. Creativity, believability, deliverability—these ingredients mingle to enhance a rumor’s inherent potential to spread and flourish.
One must lay out enough concrete details. One must sprinkle enough sensationalist glitter but not too much. A rumor must be “juicy” without tripping any b.s. alarms.
In short, one must pack a rumor as carefully as a parachute, especially if one’s aim is not to hurt the people hanging from it.
By “rumors” I mean tidbits of fake news so juicy that people can’t resist sharing it in whispered conversations and text messages with more abbreviations than real words.
By “rumors” I don’t mean pure gossip or hunches about what happened after the party between an empty-headed girl named Kelsey and a guy named Heath with fresh father wounds.
Christians excel at parading rumors in the costumes of prayer requests: “You probably heard that Eric’s son got another DUI, so be praying for them.” Did a deep concern for Eric, his family, his son, and his son’s drinking problem cause Ms. Busybody to share this information? I think not.
I developed the following steps for successfully spreading a non-corrosive rumor:
1. Choose a protagonist, a.k.a., an innocent victim.
2. Tell your protagonist the rumor that you intend to spread and ask for constructive criticism.
3. Work with the protagonist to develop and rehearse the adamant denial of the rumor when people ask about it. Adamant denials, of course, reinforce the rumor’s strength.
4. Create a short list of people who have a certain gap in self-awareness and believe themselves to be trustworthy and capable of keeping a secret but who in reality have tongues like tabloids.
5. Double check the rumor to ensure that it remains consistent with the character of the protagonist and other major players. If it’s too outlandish, then the shrewder individuals in your circle of friends will be suspicious.
6. Spread the rumor but with an incredulous attitude: “I heard the funniest thing…” or “I don’t ‘mean to gossip but I was wondering if you knew whether or not this is true…” In other words, spread the rumor reluctantly. Your hesitation provides the most tantalizing bait.
Here are three innocuous rumors that I spread in college:
My roommate David tried to kiss a girl he took out on a date, but she turned away.
I told David about my idea, and he gave his full support. He had, in fact, taken Laura out on a date, but he had not tried to kiss her. Neither one was interested in a second date, and this mutual lack of interest offered the perfect stage for stirring up some drama without hurting anyone.
Remember, the point is to not to damage anyone’s reputation but to dupe the greatest number of people.
In this case, all I had to do to spread the rumor with maximum impact was pull aside another girl in our circle of friends and say, “Hey, I’ve got something to tell you, but you can’t tell anyone. This is unbelievable…” Of course, I had chosen her carefully because I knew that she would tell a hundred other people within the hour.
This is exactly what happened, and David, Laura, and I had a good laugh while everybody else was trying to find out what really happened.
My sister and I devised the following plan: we would tell all of our mutual friends that the guy who was pursuing her at the time had given her a snorkel and my parents had walked in.
What is a snorkel? Putting one’s mouth over someone else’s nose and exhaling in an attempt to force air down their nasal passage.
Executed properly, snorkels cause hilarious gagging noises.
You can imagine what kind of opinion a girl’s parents would form about a guy who was doing something this bizarre to their daughter.
The best thing about this rumor was that no one would put it past this guy. He was always crossing those small if invisible boundaries. He was the type of guy who would share something unflattering another guy to impress a girl.
Most women may not fully understand the Man Code, but they do understand that a man loses some of his own honor when he tries to gain something by tarnishing the honor and reputation of another man.
Secret Dating Relationship
I spread a rumor that my friends Wilson and Julie were dating on the sly.
Neither was dating anyone at the time, and neither had expressed in romantic interest in the other. In fact, the reason I concocted this rumor was because I liked them both, and thus would have enjoyed them as a couple.
I was really just planting an idea in their minds by planting it in the minds of all our mutual friends.
When Wilson came to me and said, “Has anyone told you that Julie and I have been dating in secret? I mean, if I wanted to ask her out, why wouldn’t I just ask her out openly? It’s not like she has a boyfriend.”
I started laughing, and confessed my secret plot to secure his happiness with a wonderful girl. The best part about Wilson is that when he laughs hard, he has this high-pitched chortle that you might imagine coming from a witch on Halloween. Wilson’s laugh is one of my favorite things.
While you’re in Thanksgiving mode this season, be sure and spread a harmless rumor.