Gossip is purely judgmental and includes hasty generalizations about the target’s character and private life, which has nothing to do with the school, community, or workplace. The purpose of gossip is to control the target’s status by demoting the target on the social hierarchy.
Another purpose of gossip is to justify the target’s punishment by promoting a collective view that she doesn’t deserve respect, dignity, or humanity, but only abuse and hostility.
And once a target is viewed to deserve abuse, others will always escalate it!
Gossip has another benefit. It tightens group connections, gives higher status to the people who are privy to the negative information, and sets expectations and norms in the group as to how they should treat the target.
Through gossip, the group establishes, maintains, or changes social infrastructures. Gossip promotes unity and shared negative perceptions of the target. With the use of it, the group will foster justification for hostility. Therefore, no one in the group considers their actions as bullying. They will only say that the target “deserves it” and say they were reacting to “an evil enemy.”
People tell others to keep it secret, but they also ask them to inform the group of any new information and updates that concern their target.
Realize that it serves to provide bullies reaffirmations that their perceptions of the target are correct, that the target deserves abuse.
Gossipers will often cover their bad behavior with a slight confession of guilt by beginning their sentences with things like,
“I know I shouldn’t say this, but…”
“Bless her heart…”
They will acknowledge that the target is a human being, but only because this gives them the green light to talk and helps them feel less like creeps.
It’s true that reputation doesn’t equal character. But understand that though the rumors may be false, and there may be zero credible evidence to back them up, if pure speculation will best fit the bullies’ goals, that’s what they’ll go along with.
In the late stages of gossip, all bystanders will become willing co-conspirators. Gossip brings scandal, which means to assassinate the target’s character, integrity, mental fitness, and worth as a student, worker, neighbor, and human being.
Anyone who questions or disbelieves the lies will immediately become an object of bullying as well. Nobody wants to be isolated, so this forces others to stay in line with the running narrative.
And if the target attempts to defend himself or speak out against the abuse, it will be used against him.
Unfortunately, at this stage, the only way for the target to ensure his safety and escape the abuse is to leave the toxic environment and go to a new place where he can start anew, establish new connections, and reinvent himself.
Remember the character, Chris Chambers, in the movie “Stand by Me.” Although he was a great kid, he was considered a rogue and a thief. Remember the scene where he was crying to his friend, Gordy, telling him about how he got his bad name, and wishing he could go somewhere where no one knew him.
And sadly, in most cases, targets must leave the school, company, or community to heal and rebuild their lives.