Gossip has existed among humans, ever since there were three or more speaking humans in a community on the face of the earth. With three humans, two of them can always pull aside so that they can then talk about the third person in a gossipy way. Now gossip isn’t always snitty or snotty. Much of the time, gossip is a way to spread the latest news of a community – positive as well as negative. It is the communication that holds a community together. It allows a community to share the common imprints of knowledge of and from the members of the group in such a way that they are able to bond more effectively.
Nevertheless, gossip has been dramatically transformed in its presentation by modern technology. Nowadays, rather than being exclusively conveyed orally through person-to-person contact, through primary experience, it is instead also conveyed through technological devices. First, there was the telephone where there was no visual communication and only mediated auditory communication. Then along came the computer, where the visual communication was mediated and there was no auditory communication. Finally, along came Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and, of course, Zoom, forms of communication where both visual and auditory communication were present, but mediated.
All these modern technological forms have one thing in common – they exacerbate a life situation where people are feeling more and more numb. But in order to avoid the negative side effects of this increased immersion in an experiential vacuum, people have to periodically find ways to shock themselves out of it. One of the most effective vehicles for shocking themselves out of the numbness created by the devices of modern technology is by creating content in these devices that provide a negative abrasive stimulation in the form of gossip. Gossip that is more than snitty and snotty and smirky, but rather aggressive and downright predatory. Gossip that bullies people into tears. Gossip that uses the Internet to create a far more cruel means of transmission of dirt on someone, real or confabulated, than ever existed before. Now before the Internet, there were gossip columns in newspapers, but these had to follow certain moral restrictions from the editorial board and in terms of what the public expected in general. In the old days, people weren’t quite as numb. On the Internet, gossip is interactive and constantly changing and shifting. A person finds out something about an acquaintance, or, better yet, creates something about an acquaintance and instantaneously it can be spread all over social media. Someone else can add to or modify what is said and so it goes. Gossip here is like a stream of explosive tension-pockets in a vacuum sea.
And gossip is not only an end in itself. As the interactions accumulate of people who want to hurt an individual through the embarrassing and false information that is being spread, rage can be built up in such a way that the mediated messages lead to aggressive actions in the external world. Mediated aggression eventually can lead to immediate aggression. The person being attacked can end up being attacked both mentally and physically.
And frequently, the person who is the subject of cruel gossip is being attacked, not because of something bad or embarrassing or even scandalous that he has said or done, but simply because he appears weak and vulnerable. On some levels, this is preferable for the predators, because a weak and vulnerable person is unable to fight back well against cruel gossip and cruel aggression. Such a person is like a punching bag for numb people who are able to generate the kind of abrasive friction through their actions that allows them to intermittently pull out of their numbness and, in so doing, feel more vibrantly alive. The fact that their victims can be totally devastated and can end up suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome as if they had been mugged on the street is irrelevant to the perpetrators. They are too numb to feel shame, guilt or compassion.
Another angle from which to approach this topic is what does the expression of cyber-gossip do to the people who are expressing it. On one level, of course, it helps to shock the expressers out of their numbness. But doing this cyber-gossip for a long enough period of time can be so overstimulating that it can lead to a kind of burn-out which can lead to the same kind of disengagement from the world that the original immersion in numbness generated. Which, in turn, can lead to a great sense of frustration and rage most likely directed at the target victim as the perpetrator desperately tries to pull himself out of his sense of feeling burnt out. Again, the expression of anger in the form of mocking gossip can frequently turn into physical aggression, particularly with school-age children. Gossip today has become a particularly destructive vehicle for expressing anger and rage, both for the expresser as well as the target victim.