Rumours in the Arsenal of global falsehood: A dangerous trend (1)
The mechanics of mongering and spreading of rumours including those deliberately cultivated by false propaganda experts has assumed a dangerous dimension over the years. Rumours are known to cause concern if not false alarm.
The phenomenon of rumours has drawn the attention of psychologists way back in the twenties because of the political realities of the day that made rumours attract credence.
The enemies of revolutionary governments, exploiting the long-standing human habit of passing on all kinds of information by word of mouth, turned rumours into an “oral newspaper of counter revolution”.
Slander, deliberately spread by the class enemies reflected their fear of the new government and their hopes of the progressives early demise. This is because of their refusal to realize that change goes with “bearing the cross before wearing the crown”.
Although such remours were short-lived, they did considerable damage by influencing political moods and opinions, assessment and the behaviour of large groups of people unconsciously trapped by the tragedy of misplaced trust.
Many people have come to realize that rumours were lies only after going through their tragic experience. Fighting in the civil war on either side and the years of destitution and humiliation spent in emigration such was the price thousands paid for succumbing to deceit consequent upon the brainwaves of rumour agents.
Three types of rumours can be distinguished according to their emotional impact.
“A wishful – thinking rumour” is more often than not an attempt to pass off for reality something one wishes to happen. The history of propaganda has witnessed numerous cases of rumours deliberately spread to demobilize people and legitimize falsehood.
For instance a “wishful-thinking rumour” which had far-reaching political consequences was started in Chile during the fascist coup in September 1973. In the very uncertain situation which prevailed in the country, a rumour was spread to the effect that a brigade under General Prats, a progressive, which was still loyal to the Allende government, was marching upon the capital, with volunteers swelling its ranks.
This was reported by foreign news agencies and taken up by progressive radio-broadcast stations and the press. Unfortunately, it was only a rumour.
But the people believed it and did not take any action, waiting for the brigade to come. The rumour had a demobilizing effect on them. So a “wishful thinking rumour” is not so insignificant or harmless as it might appear at first sight.
A “scare mongering rumour” is usually launched as a prevision of some unpleasant events to come and demoralize people by exploiting the fact that some not very clever or superstitious individuals always pessimistically expect the worst. Such rumours often appear at times of social tension or acute conflict (natural disasters, wars, revolutionary situations, or a temporary aggravation of material difficulties etc), and they vary from pessimism to outright panic.
The deliberate dissemination of such rumours has long been part and parcel of the ideological and economic subversion perpetrated by capitalist propaganda as we have now in Nigeria where the remote cause of the countries economic predicament legitimized by the obsolete maladministration of the past is expecting miracles from the present administration. The impatience of the apostles of the status Quo has continued to send wrong signals to the populace who out of falsely fed propaganda have given a dog a bad name to hang it.
In many countries, as well as in Nigeria reactionaries have over the decades been using a rather limited set of “reliable” rumours in fighting the progressive forces which have taken power.
Some of these rumours are modified to suit the countries cultural and religious traditions; others are practically unaltered.
Thus it maybe rumoured that prices of certain goods or products will rise sharply, or that the products will disappear completely (Chile, 1971-1973; Nicaragua 1980; Afghanistan, 1980). Taking these rumours at face value, many people rush out to feverishly buy up certain goods in unreasonable quantities which leads to unfavourable consequences and a sharp distortion of the market situation: as certain goods either disappear or prices on them rise. Nigeria is not an exception in this orgy of buffoonery.
Rumours ran rife of an imminent counter-offensive by reaction of a military coup of inexorable revenge wreaked upon civilians who cooperated with revolutionary forces etc.
Pessimism is nurtured by rumours about differences within a governing party and power struggled ranging within it.
In countries where the bulk of the population is ignorant and semi-literate, rather strange tall stories are spread. For example it was rumoured in Ethiopia in 1975 that plans were afoot to exterminate all old people and cripples; in Mexico in 1974 and in India in 1975, it was put about that all children would be sterilized.
During collectivization in the USSR a rather uniform rumour was circulated throughout the caucasus and central Asia to the effect that all men and women on collective farms would be forced to sleep “under one big blanket”. Significantly, similar rumours were later spread in the traditionally Islamic countries of Asia and Africa which were taking the progressive path of cooperation in Agriculture.
It is very typical of bourgeois propaganda to regularly spread “scaremongering rumours” like the one which was persistently put about in United states in 1981: “The Russians have planted cobalt bombs in the ocean, off the shores of New York and California” This absurdity caused United States citizens to send a spate of letters to Moscow requesting not to explode the bombs, to remove them etc There is also “an aggression rumour usually based on the prejudicial, strongly unfavourable attitude of a certain group of people to an object figuring in the rumour.
“Scaremongering rumours” often cause outbreaks of aggressiveness and violence.
In Nigeria during the early 1950’s the UNICEFs philanthropic gesture to supply milk to school children in Eastern Nigeria to save them from protein difficiency was rebuffed. A false rumour that the gesture was aimed at the extermination of Nigerian children with poisoned milk was all over the place: parents rushed to the primary schools to withdraw their children from school.
Rumours were spread about the end of the world come the end of 1999 to usher in the 3rd millennium. This led to a massive all time consumption of good food in readiness for the imminent last journey. People sold out most of their landed property at a pittance. The world did not end after 1999 but valuable properties had changed hands. There was also a rumour that everybody must die men, women and children. This rumour attracted credence and people frantically embarked upon last minute preparations in readiness for eternity and it turned out to be mere deceit as nothing happened to the disconfuiture of one George Roche who started the rumour.
Rumours over the MKO Abiolas episode in the annulled presidential election of 1992 in Nigeria envisaged impending disaster which forced people to abandon their homes for safety because of whipped up sentiments.
To be contd.