Gossip is an almost timeless human activity, many like to feed it, few want to be the object of it. At first glance, it may seem like an outdated activity, yet we find it in other forms even in the coolest fringes of postmodern society where it sneaks into the meshes of cyberspace and quickly takes possession of social networks with sometimes devastating existences.
In human groups, gossip fulfills the function of expressing and channeling aggression and exercising some form of social control. From this point of view, it can quickly put some people in a bad light, be used as a tool to identify an – enemy – against which to attack by sharing this activity with one’s own social group.
All people belong to groups – families, friends, co-workers, etc. In every context, there is a tendency to identify the people with whom you feel you have the greatest affinity, with whom to group. And often such aggregations find their group identity also by differentiating themselves from those who are outside.
These attitudes can be exacerbated in particularly rigid and circumscribed cultural contexts. Or in moments of particular danger and uncertainty when human beings need to circumscribe the threat by identifying an enemy outside the social circle to which they feel they belong.
Many forms of discrimination are culturally fueled by gossip. In this way, there is a tendency to exercise a form of indirect aggression and social control. Gossip helps to define what criteria define who is – inside – and who is – outside – a particular group.
Are women more inclined to gossip?
Gossip would therefore also have the function of supporting the identity of individuals and groups – people are largely defined on the basis of the social roles they cover. If we think about it for a moment, much of the content of the gossip is about the private or love life of others.
Talking about the lives of others would therefore also be away, for some, to indirectly access the intimacy of others and personal information that would ordinarily be shared only with a few close friends. One of the reasons why gossip can be so rewarding is the nature of intimacy and (fake) secrecy that characterizes the relationship between the two or more people who share it.
A sort of complicity tends to develop between them, based on the sharing of confidential information and granted only to a few (or so we like to think). This generates a kind of intimacy and alliance between people who share gossip, an alliance created behind the backs of others.
The ethical, moral, and legal damages of gossip
Nobody likes to call themselves gossip and to admit to indulging in the practice nicely. In some circumstances, gossip is almost obligatory and is considered harmless and almost endemic to some situations.
Those who perceive to be in a social role with less power feel in some way almost entitled to steal any information or weakness of those at the top. Rumors and often legendary rumors are a way to convey aggression, consolidate within the group and exorcise potential fear.
Rarely in these contexts do we question the ethical or moral implications of gossip, it is difficult to consider the possible consequences for the person who is the object of it. Indeed, it stops being considered as such to be brought back, momentarily, to the goliardic target of the group.
These forms of objectification are also the basis of very harmful gossip that can have devastating consequences. Especially when they mix with bullying, on and off social media. In these cases, of course, we are faced with real crimes.
So what is the limit between benevolent gossip and a harmful manipulation of the reality and identity of others? Objectification could be said when we realize that talking about someone is so gratifying. To make us lose sight of the fact that it is a person just like us if we lose sight of all this, we have already gone too far.