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Rumour Has It: Rumour Adoption in Conflict-Affected Areas

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Rumours run rife in conflict areas, and have played a key role in igniting episodes of intense violence, from ethnic riots to genocide. Under what conditions are politically salient rumours treated as truth? When will unverified pieces of information be widely adopted, and when will they be dismissed as false? This paper presents a new theoretical framework, as well as the first empirical analysis of these questions, using original survey data gathered in insurgency-affected areas of Southern Thailand and the Philippines.

We find wide variation in rumour adoption across the conflict areas, and argue that variation is driven by the rumour’s fit within the receiver’s worldview, and its connection to the receiver’s threat perception. Consistent with psychological research, we find strong evidence that patterns of repeated exposure greatly increase rumour acceptance. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we find no evidence that education, income, or gender determine individual receptivity to rumours.

The broader implications and further applications of our theory and findings to Eastern Europe, North Africa and southern Europe and South Asia will also be discussed.

This talk is part of the Conspiracy & Democracy series.

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