Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, September 26, 2021

With Jeanne in town, it’s a good time to look at the whack rumors that blazed through Florida during the weather crises, and why they spread.

The gas-rationing one was really noticable here during Ivan’s time, and massively contributed to my foul mood that weekend. I lucked out by gassing up the very night before; but all the traffic holdups caused by idiots piling six cars deep into pump cues really got on my nerves.

So what’s the social dynamic behind these crazy stories?

“Natural disasters are a major incubator for rumors,” said Gary Fine, an expert on the psychology of rumors at Northwestern University in Chicago. “They work so well because the events are both important and ambiguous, and often in times of great stress people lose their critical ability.”

Rumors tend to start early after the disaster when information is scarce and emotions are raw, Fine said. And in those situations, people might not be inclined to believe what the government is telling them.

“In the midst of things, people are looking for any kind information about what’s going to happen next,” Fine said. “So a neighbor will tell them something that they’re just speculating or guessing about, and the person who hears it takes it as fact. We’re searching for any kind of news we can get our hands on, and we’re not very particular about what the source is.”

Not very particular about the source — wow, that sounds like the Web/blog news phenomenon! Except there’s generally no crisis that merits it.

I think I’ll get the early jump on the rumor mill for Jeanne. This is a blog, so I’m sure the story will be disseminated widely in short order. Let’s see, how about this:

I hear a bunch of alligators escaped from Lowry Park Zoo thanks to the storm, and are marching all over town. Some have been sighted as far south as Kennedy.

(I’m counting on people who’ve never seen the gators at Lowry Park to swallow this. If you’ve ever seen how fat those bastards are, you’d know they could never waddle more than a block before collapsing into hibernation.)

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 09/26/2004 09:04:10 AM
Category: Weather, Society | Permalink |

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