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Internet Rumors

The ability to express public opinion freely is an obvious source of Internet rumors. When these rumors appear online in print, they are often considered truth. The overall audience increases beyond the Internet when the mainstream media receives these messages.

Discussion groups and news groups provide a type of forum where the sender can express their message to an individual and consequently broadcast their opinion to a mass audience. This is an interactive means of communication that only adds to the opportunity to post information (true or not).

Crises for the organization such as credibility and confidence issues arise when the rumor reaches the news and mainstream media. Responding immediately to the claim can hinder development of the crisis and is a crucial step in managing Internet rumors.

One example of a rumor-related crisis occurred during the introduction of Intel’s new Pentium computer processor. A message posted on a CompuServe forum from a math professor indicated that the Pentium chip produced flawed mathematical information. Pentium neglected to acknowledge this publicly, taking for granted the small audience affected. The public deemed Pentium untrustworthy due to this “secret,” and the company paid over $450 million replacing the flawed chip. Intel now posts all flaws on the Internet.

A specific program to deal with these rumors is essential for an organization. This process includes monitoring web sites, especially sites of disgruntled employees or advocacy and special interest groups, on-line news services and renegade newsletters.

Investment and stock information is also manipulated frequently. Short-sellers’ use of forums to suggest price movement is a particularly damaging issue. Internet investors seek out tips on these forums and often add speculations of their own.

To handle such concerns, respond quickly and provide factual information about the rumor publicly and on the organization’s web site. It is important for employees to be clear and informed about the issue as well. Using an organization’s allies can help challenge the rumors with more reinforcement.

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Resources

Pentium chip crisis

Crisis Management International and the Internet

USENET public network

Renegade newsletter- Drudge Report

Copyright 2002 Erika Zimmerman