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Problem Solving in Social Interactions on the Internet: Rumor as Social Cognition

Prashant Bordia and Nicholas DiFonzo
Social Psychology Quarterly
Vol. 67, No. 1 (Mar., 2004), pp. 33-49
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3649102
Page Count: 17
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Problem Solving in Social Interactions on the Internet: Rumor as Social Cognition
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Abstract

Rumor discourse has been conceptualized as an attempt to reduce anxiety and uncertainty via a process of social sensemaking. Fourteen rumors transmitted on various Internet discussion groups were observed and content analyzed over the life of each rumor. With this (previously unavailable) more ecologically robust methodology, the intertwined threads of sensemaking and the gaining of interpretive control are clearly evident in the tapestry of rumor discourse. We propose a categorization of statements (the Rumor Interaction Analysis System) and find differences between dread rumors and wish rumors in anxiety-related content categories. Cluster analysis of these statements reveals a typology of voices ("communicative postures") exhibiting sensemaking activities of the rumor discussion group, such as hypothesizing, skeptical critique, directing of activities to gain information, and presentation of evidence. These findings enrich our understanding of the long-implicated sensemaking function of rumor by clarifying the elements of communication that operate in rumor's social context.

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