The Persistence of Rumor Communities: Public Resistance to Official Debunking in the Internet Age
34 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 4 Jul 2014
Date Written: 2012
Using E. E. Schattschneider’s (1975) model of conflict socialization, this study conceptualizes rumor communities, instead of the more typical rumor chains, engaged in a form of social and political activism similar to that of interest groups. It examines online user-generated commentary from the “vaccines cause autism” rumor community, a grassroots group that resists government-mandated vaccine requirements. Community members limit the scope of conflict by asserting authority to speak publicly and rejecting contributors with countering opinions as irrelevant. They sustain their threatened community by denying scientific evidence and demanding unattainable levels of scientific proof, and they socialize conflict by recruiting bystanders to enter the fray using appeals to wider social values. Understanding rumors as persuasive appeals that are socially constructed and maintained helps explain the survival of rumors and has implications for official debunking efforts. Schattschneider’s theory effectively models the behaviors of non-institutionalized groups but requires adaptation to the modern political communication environment and post-Reagan beliefs about government. Asserting the authority to speak publicly and maintaining group viability are necessary precursors to socializing conflict for grassroots interest groups. When citizens have been taught government is the problem rather than the solution, socializing political conflict may not be synonymous with federalizing it.
Keywords: rumor, conspiracy theory, political misperception, interest groups, political communication, vaccines, autism
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation