Breaking the Rumor Mill
March 6, 2005 1:07 PM   Subscribe

How do you stop a rumor from being spread about you once its started?

Over the past few months, I've noticed that a number of formerly fairly cordial friends have not been in contact as much as they normally would have, but I chalked it up to work and too much to do (me and them). Over the weekend, I found out the real reason -- a mutual aquaintence has apparently been spreading an ugly rumor about me. This rumor is presented in a plausable way, but is basically a total lie.

I've been in contact with the original rumor-spreader, and she fessed up that she might have 'misunderstood' a conversation we had. She did apologize. Now what do I do? Given that I'm able to straighten this out with the core of our group of friends, how do I deal with the fact that dozens of people that I come in contact with on a monthly basis now think I'm an evil, immoral baby-eater? Is there any effective way (short of a mass email) to get the word out that this is all lies?
posted by anastasiav to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a reputation for admitting to any rumor that gets spread about you then most people wont believe any rumors they hear about you. I'm not sure what the nature of the of the rumor is, but chances are the damage is already done. As long as you can salvage the people whose opinions matter to you then who cares what everyone else thinks?
posted by baphomet at 1:12 PM on March 6, 2005

I've run into this problem before, and I've discovered that people that really are my friends would personally discuss it with me if they believe it is a real issue, or even believe it at all.

People who don't, aren't my friends.
posted by jackofsaxons at 1:12 PM on March 6, 2005

Response by poster: I'm aware of that jackofsaxons -- notice I didn't say close friends had been avoiding me, only people with whom I'd had a formerly cordial relationship. I live in a fairly small community, where its not only important to stay on good terms with people, but its also difficult and painful when people you used to be on good terms with move away from you in the super market. I come into contact with many of these people frequently, either through work of through places where I volunteer, and not only is it painful and awkward to have people think something gruesome and untrue about you, but it can sometime impede getting projects and other necessary stuff completed.
posted by anastasiav at 1:31 PM on March 6, 2005

Ah, I misunderstood.

Well I would be as upfront with them about it as possible. Explain the situation, and the circumstances.
posted by jackofsaxons at 1:34 PM on March 6, 2005

Can you get the lie-spreader to apologize to the people she lied to for you? She's really responsible at this point.
posted by some chick at 1:52 PM on March 6, 2005

As an opinion from the opposite side, when I hear rumors too good or bad to be true I ask the friend who supposedly did it. I guess your group of friends don't do that sort of thing, but it gets those ugly rumors out of the way, like when everyone thought a friend of mine crapped his pants at a party. Boy, was that a misconception!
posted by Dean Keaton at 1:55 PM on March 6, 2005

Get the person who started it to go back to everyone she told and explain her mistake and apologize, asking them to do the same if need be. If she won't, then do it for her.

Of course, it kind of depends on what this is about and how important it is to you...

on preview: I concur with some chick
posted by airguitar at 1:55 PM on March 6, 2005

I think your malefactor owes it to you to undo some of this damage with a mass email setting the record straight and apologizing. It might seem like a lot to ask but damage to your reputation can be a pretty big deal.
posted by scarabic at 1:57 PM on March 6, 2005

What you've described is slander. Your experience is exactly why people sue for it. Give her the opportunity to correct her mistake -- for example, in the manner that scarabic suggests -- but let her know that if the mistake is not corrected that you will be talking to a lawyer about this.
posted by mcwetboy at 2:12 PM on March 6, 2005

Generally people are more interested in a good story than if something is truthful or not so if you don't care about risking all your credibility and putting this liar completely in the shit then the quickest solution is a bit of social engineering. Basically tell everyone you meet that she's not only been spreading lies about you but everyone else too. Just make out she's a mad lying psycho and that story will be around your group of friends in no time and it'll magically put everything she's said about you into doubt. I wouldn't recommend doing that though!

Alternatively, this is a much better plan but takes much longer. Whenever you're in conversation with these people try to bring the conversation gently round to the general subject matter of the rumour. So, if the rumour was that you own all of Phil Collins' albums then you could bring the conversation round to Phil Collins. The goal is that they ask you about the rumour - people can't resist getting the inside story from the horses mouth. That's when you can set the record straight with them. Some people won't bite - particularly if the subject matter is intensely personal - in which case don't force the subject.

Unfortunately it's much harder to fix a reputation than to damage it. Good luck though.
posted by dodgygeezer at 2:17 PM on March 6, 2005

Best answer: Assuming the slanderer isn't willing, or you don't trust her. and you say there are dozens of people who have heard the rumor, you do might this: make up a list of, let's say, six of the most gossipy busybodies of the bunch, and make it a point to meet with them each of them and explain the real facts, then hope that their desire to talk about others will extend even so far as to inlclude less juicy tidbits. With luck, these people can do most of the footwork for you. I think emails would be too melodramatic and weird.

(*hugs the immoral baby-eater*)
posted by taz at 2:18 PM on March 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

Personally--especially in a small social circle--I'd hold off on fighting the rumor very directly _myself_. It's just always much less credible when the victim of a story takes it on themselves to say, "She's lying!" It very easily reeks of protesting too much.

I'd hope I could rely on my close friends--the ones who didn't buy it in the first place--to help out. Ideally, you wouldn't even have to _ask_ flat out...just making sure they're aware of the facts should spur any good friend to go out and address things of their own volition. If that doesn't seem to be happening on its own, though, I still think you're better off asking your friends to spread the word rather than doing it yourself. Not only is it something any good friend should gladly take up for another, but it's a lot more credible with the people who _don't_ know you so well, I think.

On preview, that'd be my main reservation with the recommend to get other busybodies to spread a basically need to disseminate the truth through a channel that's flatly more credible than the one the rumor got out through. Known gossips aren't any more believable--why shouldn't anyone just assume they're just taking milking the story for more gossip? Ditto yourself--_of course_ you'd fight it, and claim she's lying. Your friends--assuming they're relatively well-respected--are the most credible channel to counter the rumor that's already out there.
posted by LairBob at 2:48 PM on March 6, 2005

I don't know that you can ever unring the bell, so to speak, even if you get the person who initially spread the rumor to issue a mass retraction. People tend to remember the drama of a good rumor and forget more mundane things like hearing that the rumor wasn't true in the first place.

Here's what I would do. I would flat out tell the snubbers that you've missed hearing from them. Then ask if there's something that you've done that upset them. They will respond in one of two ways. They may confront you about the rumor, at which you can looked utterly shocked and hurt that they would think such a thing of you and tell them that it's not true. They may not believe you, but it will probably make them at least be polite to you. Otherwise, they may deny that anything is wrong at all, in which case you can be friendly the next time you see them at the supermarket and they will probably be at least baseline-polite in return.

Sorry that you're dealing with this -- it's a tough spot to be in. Good luck.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 3:03 PM on March 6, 2005

The problem is that the rumor correction has to be as interesting as the original rumor. The new rumor has to be that the original gossip is an even more evil baby eater than you were rumored to be as well as being a lying gossip. I doubt this will work and it will ignite a useless war. In general, people suck.
posted by rdr at 5:31 PM on March 6, 2005

Human monkeys are easily distracted. Start another, different, more juicy rumor and the old one will be forgotten in due course.
posted by AlexReynolds at 7:15 PM on March 6, 2005

Best answer: Get more social. Dinner parties carefully planned to bring the right people, where the conversation can be directed in a way to bring out the rumor, and debunk it. It will require the aid of friends, of course. This was the way such things were handled amongst 19th century gentility.
posted by Goofyy at 7:21 PM on March 6, 2005

Best answer: The new rumor has to be that the original gossip is an even more evil baby eater than you were rumored to be as well as being a lying gossip.

While I hate to be so cynical, rdr's advice above worked when I found myself in a similar situation. It was the one time I've had to kick a non-paying, increasingly bizarre and assholish roommate out of a house, who covered his ass by claiming we kicked him out because he wouldn't have sex with us. Jesus, did I hit the roof when I heard *that* one. It's a strange, helpless feeling.

I donn't feel we were starting a "new rumor," though, when we fought back. I simply started telling the truth to the three folks I knew he'd gone to, and also spread the news to a slightly wider circle which included folks I trusted to tell other folks. In your case, I think it's a good idea to get the rumor-spreader to tell you who she lied to. Then, don't let her apology stop you from a healthy dose of outrage directed in her direction around those people. If the damage to your reputation bothers you a lot and you're still unsure who might have been affected, feel free to bring it up to your cordial friends without pussyfooting around. Like, "My god, you wouldn't believe what X just did to me! Thank god she's apologized, but still!"

Finally, there came a point, anastasiav, when we had to make peace with the fact that somewhere there still might be people who believed we were the kind of folks who'd do what our ex-roommate suggested we'd done. It sucks, but you just have to take a deep breath, say "fuck you" to the memory of the asshole event, and move on.
posted by mediareport at 11:43 PM on March 6, 2005

Ignore lies, since there is nothing to back up. Plus it will never end since these people showed you how they act upon hearing gossip which can be truthful or lies. The next time...what will you do when the awful truth is told about you?
posted by thomcatspike at 9:56 AM on March 7, 2005

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