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Last Updated: Friday, 17 December, 2004, 15:48 GMT
Should you believe your ears?
Man on mobile phone
Why do we spread rumours?

Rumours and gossip are rife all over the world.

And if we're really honest with ourselves, we all love a good gossip -- don't we?

So, what is it about us that drives us to spread and believe rumours?

For example, do you remember the story in Nigeria about the killer mobile phone numbers?

Earlier this year, many mobile phone users in Lagos anxiously checked the number that was calling them before answering.

A rumour had spread -- like wildfire -- around the commercial capital. If you answered a call from certain 'killer numbers' -- the rumour went -- then you would die immediately.

In fact no one died -- and it was a completely unfounded rumour.

But it took a while for experts and mobile phone operators to reassure anxious people that death would not result from receiving a call from the so-called killer numbers.

BBC Africa Live is asking: Have you ever started a rumour? Have you ever been the victim of gossip? Has a rumour changed your life? Have you experienced first-hand the damage rumours can do?

Tell us what you think by using the form on the right. Because rumours are rarely true and in some cases damaging, we may remove some people's names.

Join the debate on Wednesday 22 December at 1630GMT and 1830GMT on the BBC World Service.

If you would like to take part in the discussion, please send us your comments with your telephone number, which will not be published.


I have come to believe that it is such news that comes as rumour or what have you that makes life what it is. Life itself will not be complete without rumour. You see, that is what make life interesting, without which all will be bored. This is more real in Africa where a lot of people are jobless.
Ibukun Olatidoye, Nigeria

In the society where I grew up, they were told us always to be afraid of old persons. They were telling and still telling children never to walk alone because if one could meet an old person, this old person would touch your head and you could catch a disease or die. But this story is not always true, because everyone has an old one in his own family (a father, a grandfather or grandmother etc). And no one is afraid of his parents. But this always lead to crimes of the suspected person. Why should we consider the person from other families as a witch because of his age and purify our own?
Kakule Kalirwako, DR Congo

Believe it or not, rumours is another source of information. Rumours is a warning for the wise, like it or not!
Majid Oziaminu, Jos, Nigeria

Rumours are good. They keep you informed of the situation around you. They are good for conveying messages you wouldn't want to be associated with. And spreading a few good ones can bring people and things your way.
Souleymane, Senegak

I must admit that rumours and gossips are destructive and can cause irreparable damage to the one directed to. I really get excited when i get the news that i am being the subject of gossip and rumor. I don't take a drop of alcohol but in the area I live the subject anytime I pass by was that "you know that young man, he is an alcoholic". You know, it excites me and give me a sense of importance when I hear that people are discussing me.
Freeman Tettey, Accra, Ghana

It is said that there is no smoke without fire. This used to be true, but in the world that we live in today, I no longer think so. In my view "credible " sources even have to be looked at with some suspicion. Leaders of all levels and backgrounds set out to deliberately deceive the led. The issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against Iraq, is a significant case in point.
John Mensah, UK

Rumour mongers are gossips and idle minds. They should rather learn to be real and face realities of life rather than being cowards. Most rumours are propagated with real intention which could be political or economical as the case may be.
Christian Merenini, Nigeria

It's a shame that our society thrives on rumours.
Pacharo Kayira, Malawi

I have learned in life never to believe any story I hear until I confirm its truthfulness. Rumours destroy innocent lives. It's a shame that our society thrives on rumours.
Pacharo Kayira, Malawi

Rumours are very damaging. I recall when I joined college in 1993. Some students began spreading rumours that I was too old to be in college. Yet if all of us were asked to show our birth certificates, the reverse would have been the case. It really pained me to an extend that my performance in class was affected. When I joined a media organisation the same was the case, again! It is only recently that I decided to live my life, and to forget what people say about me.
Dorah Judith, Kenya

Most of the time rumours are used to cover up a failure, mismanagement or misdemeanour.
Boye Jallo Jamboria

Rumours are as old as mankind. Religion, philosophy and all the studies of human existence and nature tell us that rumours have been and will always be an inherent part of our life. Governments, politicians and those who feel they have a right to control use it a lot. When rumours are planned and tailored for a particular purpose they become propaganda. Most of the time rumours are used to cover up a failure, mismanagement or misdemeanour.
Mohamed Boye Jallo Jamboria, Sierra Leonean in Norway

To keep from being victimised by rumour, become informed. Find out things, when you don't know something make the effort to learn about it.
Alikos pah, Colorado USA

There are two types of rumours, negative and positive. What I do is watch the situation, listen to my mind and brain then follow their lead.
Adeola, UK

In Africa, rumours, gossip and superstitious believes are the order of the day! Africans take rumours very seriously.
Sheikh Umar, Nigeria

I always listen to people but I do conduct my own investigation to ascertain the truthfulness of the information. There was a rumour one time that the US had excluded Nigeria from the Visa Lottery Programme but years after that rumour surfaced, Nigeria is still on the list of the participating country.
Omorodion Osula, Benin City, Nigeria

I have never heard of a gossip or rumour that talks good about someone.
Alinane Mmanga, Malawi

Those who have felt how bad and damaging rumours can be will not engage in them. The problem is people who engage in rumour spreading and gossip usually have nothing to do, are frustrated and usually are failures in life. In order to win recognition from people they decide to spread rumours most of which are damaging to the reputation of other people. I have never heard of a gossip or rumour that talks good about someone.
Alinane Mmanga, Malawi

You should take everything you ear about people with reserve. Rumours can harm, even cause death. For instance in Gabon, there was a rumour that if you shook the hand of a certain person, your genitals would shrink. People were killed and beaten up for allegedly stealing men's and women's genitals. We also heard that famous telephone number that killed once you answered to it.
Placide Matsiaba

In Owerri, the capital of Imo state in south east Nigeria, motorcycle operators known here as Okada riders are the most feared rumour mongers. Maybe because they are always on the move, ferrying one passenger from one city end to another. And it really spreads like wildfire. Gossip is the product of an uninformed, violent and depraved mind. It is also the product of an alienated people.
Emeka Peters , Nigeria

When information leaves its origin, it is always eventually distorted.
Morris Varney, Liberian in Ghana

Gossip is fuelled by misinformed and ill intentioned people which can be very damaging to a person. Rumours, however, are a device to quickly pass on vital pieces of news, and when he or she does not know the full facts, they fill in the gaps with fantasy. When information leaves its origin, it is always eventually distorted.
Morris Varney, Liberian in Ghana

There was a popular armed robber in Benin City between 1984 and 1986. He was known as Anini. He and his right-hand man supposedly robbed so many financial institutions and killed a lot of policemen in action. Rumour has it that Anini disappears and reappears whenever he wants to strike, and if you dare call his name, he will appear before you and you will die. People all over the country therefore, used to call him 'brother' for their own safety.
Isaac, Toronto, Canada

Being the subject of a rumour can be the worst thing that can happen to anyone. I was constantly the subject of rumours at school and I hated school so much, that it affected my performance.
Anita, Kenya

Like it or not, it is always fun when there is a rumour going around. You can see the fear and the fun in everyone's faces. Rumours keep them on the edge.
Garland, Nigeria

I was making love to several women from my church and word got out! What was I to do? One husband burst into the church to confront me and I cried crocodile tears as I told him that this was a terrible rumour. He believed it and I lived.
Anonymous, Cameroon

There were rumours that a man eating monster was in the area
Jean-Paul Muana, Congolese in UK
When I was young in DR Congo, we had to have my school evacuated because there were rumours that a man eating monster was in the area. This rumour has persisted to date in many parts of central and east Africa and has disrupted the teaching in many schools. Now that I've seen the light, I just think that the story was made up by a bunch of pupils and teachers who wanted to have a day or two off from school. Rumours do not represent the real story and by going from one person to another, it gets seriously distorted. By the time it reaches you, it sounds different from the original tale. I will never believe in rumours until I've seen it for myself!
Jean-Paul Muana, Congolese in UK

Rumour is communication in most developing countries. It's the occupation of the idle and the unemployed. It's also a tactic used by some dictators to frustrate the public and hold onto power. The transmitters are the weak hearted and the poor. With a good communication system, this may not exist at all. I think the main reason behind the death calls on mobile phones was a ploy to sabotage the country's communication systems! J.M.
John Mann, Kamerun

It is really painful when people spread false rumours about you and you don't have the opportunity to tell the world the truth!
Babatunde, Nigeria

Rumours are great. They give humanity a sense of humour - there is a need for us to be happy. I love it.
Brian M. Kwesiga, USA

The biggest and most ungodly rumour that I have ever heard was on the first day of the new millennium. There was going to be a shot rain fall and if that rain touched you, you were going to die within that year. That foolish rumour brought an entire city to a stand still, and no one wanted to go out that day. As a result, the New Year celebrations were completely flat.
J. Jefferson Chesson, Liberia

Rumours damage people's lives, especially when they are remotely related to an undeniable fact. An acquaintance in Johannesburg once called my fiance and his brothers, telling them that I had just had an abortion. The truth of the matter is, I went down with a touch of Malaria during the period I was supposedly having an abortion. People could see that I was unwell, but they just could not believe it was common Malaria.
Aisha Esnas Mukoya, Kenya

Rumours and gossip are the creations of evil minded people
Yussuf Dayib Ali, Nairobi, Kenya
Rumours and gossip are the creations of evil minded people. They spread fear and hatred among societies. Rumours in Kenya originate from idle and unemployed youths who spend their time in political gossip. Religion plays a major role in limiting the damages caused by rumours and gossip. Islam is against gossiping. African traditions and witchcraft are partially to blame for the Nigerian case. Africans must rise against rumour which distorts reality.
Yussuf Dayib Ali, Nairobi, Kenya

Rumours are evil and dangerous and people believe them so easily, even the most outrageous! One must learn to shun rumours and refuse to partake in their spread. It's important to ignore condemnation and rumours.
Yemi King, Nigeria

There was once a man who had gone missing and his body was never found. Later, a hippo was found roaming around and it was rumoured to have been the re-incarnation of the missing man who had a spell cast on him by a local witch doctor.
Kalisto, Zimbabwean in UK

People often spread rumours to eagerly be the first to break the news
Wesley Nsomba, Tanzania
Uncertainty fuels rumours. An unexplained event may lead to a possible rumour. This particularly applies to people in public office - a recent rumoured death of President Paul Biya is an example. Although it is difficult for the case of an individual, the community concerned should be given timely and relevant information for the rumour to stop. People often spread rumours to eagerly be the first to break the news.
Wesley Nsomba, Tanzania

There are two kinds of rumours. One is based on hate against someone and is a deliberate act to defame the victim. The second is a result of ignorance, eg the "killer-caller". The first type of rumour is destructive. Everybody should be cautious and try to clarify the situation before joining in. The second type of rumour just needs awareness and takes a matter of time before it disappears.
Mesele, Ethiopian in Norway

Rumours and stories spread like wildfire in places where people don't rationally process their information or seek evidence to support it before accepting it. The basis of this is ignorance which is not surprising in Africa, where literacy levels are extremely low. The answer is education which replaces an empty mind with an open mind.
Ayo, UK

A rumour spread that my wife was making love with a priest.This upset me greatly and I stopped going to church. But I later discovered it was just a rumour. This changed my life -- in the sense that I have learnt to always be a "Doubting Thomas" and to actually see for myself before drawing conclusions.
Anonymous, Cameroon

The wildest, unfounded rumour I had ever heard was in Ghana and Nigeria. It went like this: if a man shook the hand of some juju-men your genitals would shrink. A couple of people were killed in my own presence for allegedly causing somebody's penis to shrink.
Eric Bottah, Ghana/ USA

The people who serve as carriers of rumours are people who have idle hands
John, Ghana
The people who serve as carriers of rumours are people who have idle hands.The best way to reduce this nonsense is to re-orientate the youth of today, to believe in the virtue of openness and to respect individuals. When rumours about someone spread, it is best not to join in, but to meet the person and ask them if the gossip is true. Let us all stop rumours and gossip. It is bad.
John, Ghana

I used to live my life based on what people say about me. I always wanted them to say positive things about me. If they didn't, I'd quickly turn around and check how and what I had done in the last few months. But at the moment, I don't even care what the whole world says about me - let them say what they want; it's my life.
Solomon, Warri, Nigeria




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