Picture the scene, a left-leaning tabloid speculates that Leicester City manager Craig Shakespeare is about to take Oxford United manager Michael Appleton as his beloved number 2.
This then gets repeated hundreds of times via social media, each one adding to the noise, building from speculation to rumour to fact. Another sports journalist claims Appleton has told the players (who are currently dispersed around the more sordid resorts of southern Europe and therefore almost impossible to tell as a group) that he’s going. More proof.
Except, of course, there is no proof. It may indeed be true. But there is no proof.
The BBC are silent on the subject as is the Oxford Mail (beyond reporting the rumour) and the club. The silence is deafening. Except silences aren’t deafening, they’re, well, silent.
First, let’s work through the heathens that are keeping The Truth from us. The BBC have a public remit to inform, they won’t say anything until it’s been backed up by verifiable fact. The Oxford Mail’s value is based on the trust they have with key institutions; the local football club being one. It is not in their interest to break the trust they have with the club. Lose that because of tittle tattle and they lose their weekly privileged briefings from the club, access to its personnel and games, and so on. The reason they are silent, is because there is nothing of substance to say. Yet. And what about the club? Well, 90% of football rumours are untrue, trust me, I’ve counted. If they were to comment on speculation, 90% of it would be talking about things which aren’t happening. The club won’t talk until there is something to talk about.
The Mirror and the dozens of Twitter accounts who claim to be in the know on these things thrive on the referrals they can get from speculating. Validation isn’t that important, people love a gossip and that’s what sells papers and gets retweets.
Journalists stating that ‘they’ve been told’ things are happening rarely tell you by whom. Perhaps they have been told by someone with genuine knowledge, perhaps they’ve been told by the same Twitter account that you’re reading. You will never know. It’s in the interest of a journalist to appear to have their finger on the pulse, their reputations are built on having access, or at least appearing to have access. Plus of course, it is natural for people to want to promote that they are in-the-know because it promotes a sense of power.
The truth is that the truth isn’t the truth until it’s, well, the truth. And the truth isn’t driven by silence, it’s driven by evidence.
So why do we react like we do? Well, most of our brain has evolved to ensure we survive, as a result we have a highly evolved sense of fight or flight. If we’re confronted with something that unnerves us, then our brain initially processes the information as to whether it will hurt us or not. If that assessment results in a belief that we might get hurt then we start fighting to protect ourselves or running away, or, in a combination of the two, panicking. This can be triggered by anything, even the vague idea that the manager of your football club could be leaving.
If the assessment is that you are not in danger, then the information is handed over to a much smaller part of your brain which assesses the situation more logically and rationally. In the modern world, the reality is that very little will genuinely hurt you so the trick is to pass the information from one part of your brain to the other so you can assess the situation properly, not quickly.
So, many fans have been startled by the news that Michael Appleton might move to Leicester and have ‘catastrophised’ wildly about what this means. Pass it over to the more considered part of your brain and think that most of the trusted sources of this information remain silent on the subject. This probably means there’s nothing to say.