Rumors, Gossip, and Your Health

Rumors. Gossip. Fake news.

We've all heard these terms. While most consider them harmless, they can affect your health. Learning to tell the difference between fact and fiction can be a real boost -- both mentally and physically.

What happens when rumors aren't harmless? What if they damage someone's reputation, livelihood, or personal life?

If you're on the receiving end of untrue gossip, what do you do?

Rumors vs. Gossip vs. 'Fake News'

Rumors are defined as widely spread talk with no reliable source to back it up. They aren't always bad. Some rumors can even seem positive, like promotions, engagements, or awards.

But until proven otherwise, they are just that -- rumors.

Gossip is when you take rumors -- those unconfirmed pieces of information -- and pass them along, spreading what may be “fake news.”

What may be surprising is how difficult it can be to tell rumor and gossip from truth. Even people who are Internet-savvy can have trouble telling what's real and what's not. It can also be tough to tell the difference between news and advertisement. As a result, people sometimes give more weight to what they see in their social media feed than what they get from more credible news sources.

What's the Harm?

When it comes to "fake news," the effects can be both immediate and long-lasting. In most cases, a "fake news" story can rile up your emotions and change your mood. Depending on the strength of your feelings, the story, and the reaction it gave you, can stick in your head, even after you find out it's false. You may even remember those feelings if you see another story about the same subject.

On their own, rumors and gossip seem harmless; almost a fun pastime. But there's a point where they can become harmful to your health.

There's a great deal of information out there about bullying among teenagers and younger children. What's sometimes overlooked is that adults can be bullied, too.

It can come in the form of untrue rumors or gossip about them or a loved one. It can also come through reactions to words or an image that's been posted.

Physical appearance, politics, and financial issues can all become the subject of online bullying, too.

It's far from something to brush off. It can bring things like:

What's more, all this talk can escalate to physical violence. When it's not addressed, it can also cause long-term physical and mental health issues, including:

Continued

What Can You Do?

Rumors, gossip, and fake news can make you feel helpless, angry, and very anxious. There are steps you can take to regain your power and your health.

To avoid fake news, you can:

  • Watch out for sites that end in ".com.co." Often, these are bootleg versions of traditional news services.
  • Try to find other articles on the same topic from other sites, especially if the first article you read makes you upset. It's possible that the anger-inducing story was created in a way to rile you up.
  • Check another source if an article you read uses all caps, either in headlines or in the article itself.
  • Click the "About Us" tab for more information about the source.
  • Poke around a little to see if other, more-known sites are reporting the story. If it's legitimate, at least one other site would cover it.
  • Be careful about blogs, even if they're tied to well-known sites. In many cases, blogs aren't held to the same editorial standard as regular news pieces.

When you come across a piece of gossip, a juicy rumor, or an unflattering photo that clearly is aimed at hurting the subject, don't share it, don't comment, and don't engage. You might be able to help someone who doesn't know how to combat the problem by simply reporting it for them.

If you're the subject of a rumor, gossip, or bullying, it's important to remember that not every bit of teasing is bullying. But when it escalates to that point, don't respond. Cut them off -- block the calls and texts, and block them on social media.

Get in touch with your Internet service provider if the abuse is coming through a website or your cellphone. Chances are the bully is violating their terms of service. If so, the offensive posts will disappear. You can also contact the police. There are laws against harassment, stalking, and threatening behavior.

Don't engage with them. Don't forward the messages to friends. (Who knows where they'll go from there?) Most of all, don't believe whatever is being said about you.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on February 13, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

End to Cyberbullying Organization: “What Can You Do If You're a Victim?”

Cyberbullying Research Center: “Cyberbullying: Identification, Prevention, & Response.”

National Institutes of Health: “About Bullying,” “Workplace Bullying and Mental Health: A Meta-Analysis on Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Data.”

CyberMentors: “Statistics about Cyberbullying victims.”

Workplace Bullying Institute: “Mental Health Harm.”

Stanford University News: “Stanford researchers find students have trouble judging the credibility of information online.”

Merriam Webster: Definitions of "rumor" and "gossip."

Common Sense Media: "How to Spot Fake News (and Teach Kids to Be Media-Savvy)."

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