The Gossip Manifesto or how to fight a gossip war


This is the first writing collaboration of social detectives Daniel Costigan and James Van de Waal. They were attracted towards collaboration because of the value they felt that their different approaches might bring to the same subject. James, with his rigorous analytical frame of mind, and Dan, with his knowledge of everything that is right arising from a greater poetic source of life inspiration. Blending majesty and anecdote he arrives at the factual truth simply by applying his methods. He is inspired by a higher truth and shares a vision which is not even fully revealed to him. Also James did some other good stuff too.


Significance of Gossip

Gossip is not new; the Oxford English Dictionary traces the word back to 1014. The etymology of the word comes from god-sip, a godparent of one child which infers a close friendship. Under that definition gossip then meant the things we would share only among close companions.


  • casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true:he became the subject of much local gossip

  • a conversation about other people; an instance of gossiping:she just comes round here for a gossip

  •  chiefly derogatory a person who likes talking about other people’s private lives. (Cited from: Oxford Dictionaries)

At the outset it is important to stress that gossip is not a trivial matter. Some people might suggest that gossiping is a little girl’s activity. They might try and talk it down and suggest that it is just bitching and that they do not care what is said about them. The reality is that gossip is a deadly fucking serious activity. Reputations can be ruined and in a study of Shasta County Rancher gossip has proven more effective than the law at enforcing the norms of cattle and livestock trespass. In Ellickson’s seminal article ‘On Coase and Cattle’ he refers to residents of the Northeastern foothills as being intently aware of the ‘the role of gossip in their system of social control.’

In the paper one example is given of a rancher  ‘using gossip to sanction a traditionalist [rancher] who had been ‘impolite’ when coming to pick up some stray mountain cattle; he reported that application of this self-help device produced an apology, an outcome itself presumably circulated through the gossip system.


So don’t believe one word of people telling you that they do not suffer because of gossip. Everything is interpersonal. People care massively about the effect they have on other people. If one reads Yalom’s book on the theory and practice of group psychotherapy one learns that everybody cares about what people are saying about them from prisoners who have been rejected by society to the most isolated schizoid.

It’s the same thing with people who are dying. The top of their list of concerns are interpersonal. Yalom points to examples where people hide their illnesses to make presentations and worry more about humiliation that an illness might cause rather than the illness itself. So the case has been somewhat made that gossip is a serious affair and people care how other people think of them. It is as serious as swords are made out to be in this clip below. If you can replace the word ‘sword’ with gossip you’ll get some idea.

Gossip Sources

Be extremely cautious when betraying a gossip source. Gossip sources are like journalistic sources. You endeavour not to give up your sources. Sources appreciate that they are people who are gossiped about. They appreciate that the information you give them will be passed on but one thing that cannot happen is for the person to reveal what has been said about them by the gossip source.

*Remember: Gossiping with someone is a coven. Either acknowledged or secret, it is an agreement between two people to share information that could compromise both of them socially. As the idiom goes “The sword swings both ways”. So it is inadvisable to use this facet of their character against them without perjuring or castigating yourself in tow. Outing someone as a source of gossip should be a measure of last resort.

Conversation Bin. (Antonyms: Leaky sieve,Gossip whore) –

These are invaluable. We all need to vent and we all need to tell stories to people. But we need to know where that information goes. Conversation bins are people who don’t carry the information forward and that means that you can vent and talk to them and the information will not be passed on. A similar but slightly different phenomenon exists with talking about people from one group in another group. That group will not bring the gossip back to the place where the gossip might have an effect.

Sometimes a conversational bin can appear as an archetypally uninvolved personality, whom on finding out personal information is frightened by the consequences of disturbing the equilibrium. However much of the time a friend or peer who is designated a ‘Bin’ finds him or her self in the invidious position of being affected by the information you wish to ‘dump’ or ‘vent’. A conversational bin is really just a moving term for anybody who finds themselves in the privileged or cursed position of being able to receive your gossip without adversely effecting your dynamic with those involved with the story.So under this definition a parent,guardian,friend,bus driver,doctor and especially prisoner, can all be this person to you.

People who say they don’t gossip –

Some people suggest that they are morally opposed to gossip and differentiate what they do as being something other than gossip. There are a number of different types of ‘supposed’ principle objectors to gossip. The first type suggests that they don’t involve themselves in gossip or very rarely do so. They suggest that they don’t want to get involved but often are the worst gossips. The frequently play both sides of the fence and engage in exactly the sort of gossiping that they suggest they don’t do.

Another type of objector is the person who suggests that they don’t gossip at all. A more ideologically extreme but less threatening variant. Their bullshit is utterly transparent and they often turn out to be something akin to your ordinary gossiper. Yet another type is the unconscious gossiper. They don’t appreciate that they are gossiping but without even knowing what they are doing they will include some gossipy information as a conversational aside .


Social Networks are an invaluable portal for gossip. Here though, the adjustability of messaging and posting leaves a few more manoeuvres at play for gossiping techniques. Posterity being a suggestive key factor of talking meaningless nonsense on public forums, Facebook chat can actually be a brilliant method of deploying gossip, but the method must be cautious and containing a “fall back explanation” for plausible deniability. Another important use of Facebook for social management interplay, is to “smoke out” your gossipers with planted messages.

There is another situation where you know that someone has more information than they are willing to talk about. A tactic that can be used here is pretending that one knows more than one does. This puts the other person at ease and they are more willing to betray confidences operating under the impression that the other person already knows about the subject.

Tautological Trap: This only works when you have the general piece of information beforehand on a person, but do not have the evidence to reinforce it. You likely know it through symbolic suggestion or a keen awareness for the person’s behavioural traits. To trap someone into gossiping about your subject usually involves the self-enforced point that the thing you are talking of is so commonly known (usually a suggestion through tone), that the person you want to admit it  has no option but to confirm it through a sense of common courtesy. The results of this are not very substantial, as this can be considered a type of social coercion. Meaning that in some ways you are tainting the friends objectivity because you are inveighing a piece of information onto them that could create a false positive.

Normality traps – There are certain things that are taken as symbols of normality. Nowhere is this more evident than on Facebook. Facebook users are given the choice to look at all of the photos of people they barely know, they can comment on facebook threads that are only tenuously connected to them and they can add people they barely know in reality. People are supposed to be normal though and not to use facebook for these behaviours that are often labelled creeping. If you are fighting a gossip war you can plant a trap. You put an irresistible nugget of information or provocation in a ‘verboten’ section of facebook and when they respond they are not normal.


Fighting a gossip war


The object of a gossip war is usually along the lines of competing to see which one of two or more opponents can do the most damage. There are a number of tactics that are used in such a war that are worth mentioning.


One tactic involves prefacing a piece of gossip with a self-deprecating story or some piece of information that makes you lesser or more vulnerable. This may seem paradoxical but it can actually be quite effective. First of all of information about another follows negative information about yourself then people are more inclined to believe and pass on the information to another. They may think that the person has spoken ill of themselves and by extension must be truthful in their accounts of others. Also the negative material about the self can lessen the sting of the information about the other. One could say something along the lines of ‘ I do this thing a lot that’s how I see it in him/ her’. In this instance I could be taken as merely identifying with another sufferer of their own flaws. But no. Much more than this you the gossipee have snagged the bait.

Another trend that one might adopt in a gossip war is as follows. Keep it like the Nazi party when they were on the campaign trail. Simple and repetitive. A few key slogans around which the masses can organize. This person does this. If they have a dozen different problems try and join a few into a simple image. Embed it into jokes and conversations that are in no way related to the gossip material. Say it in a sort of matter of fact way. Understand that humour makes things true. People are not that searching and rigorous. If you are funny you are right.

Create distinctions. The distinguishing of behaviours can be artificial or real. Suggest that something your gossip target has done is categorically different from other actions. Point out how this explicitly contradicts what they have said. Highlight how you are willing to admit to the same flaw but they have in some way taken it one step further. You’ve done that thing but you could never do it if ‘insert condition’  were the case.

The next level gossiper might get the receiver of the gossip to do a lot of the work. His or her communication may involve a lot of meta-communication. It encourages paranoia and questions motivations. What do you think they meant when they said this? Perhaps this was the thinking of that person when they were doing this? You’re so good to that person I think I’m less giving as a person I expect reciprocity. Perhaps on a symbolic level this person was trying to say this? etc.

The next level gossiper might use a gossip source’s own tropes and motifs of gossip to get a gossip target. They do not have to agree with the information about the target. They may need only to appeal to the gossip source to remember a previous position they adopted in relation to a gossip target. If a gossip carrier becomes reluctant and wonders what prevents you from gossiping about them to other people in the same way assure them that they are different. They are just one of those people whom it is not easy to gossip about. The gossip target is just categorically different and worthy of such gossip.

If someone is reluctant to pass on information to you. Ask them incredulously – ‘Who am I going to tell?’. Alternatively you can suggest that they are not really telling you anything and play the information down. If you don’t want to appear too gossipy because there are a few ‘saints’ among you then reveal a tantalizing and incomplete piece of information. In this case you are not gossiping but are just being badgered into revealing information by the carriers.

If you are reporting an event remember to report your interpretation as though it were the factual occurrence. Talk not about what they said but about the ‘vibe’ you got about what they were actually saying. Inform people of the subtext of a conversation before referring to selected quotes to sell your version of events. If dealing with one incident give your interpretation of the event and then a factual account of some previous event which you suggest is similar. It operates much like the Kuleshov effect the placement of a second shot completely alters the meaning of the first shot.

An example might go like this – a) I saw X getting a boost over a wall. It was completely dodgy. They were clearly casing the place to rob it. b) Of course he told me that when he was 5 he would compulsively steal things from his local shop. Also I saw him steal a packet of chewing gum in a shop like it was nothing. The gossipee is suddenly realizes that the climbing over the wall must have been related to the pattern of stealing. That’s what the gesture means.

It would also be beneficial to remember that talking in terms of ‘vibe’ acknowledges an emotional language spoken through common occurrence for all people. Jacques Lacan is famed for his writings on the inherent lack that exists between language and the experience or feeling attached to it. Language is the compromise of verbal communication between human beings. Interpersonal communication demands this compromised reduction of personal fulfilment with regards to representing  experience through words.

Because language is shared in this fashion though, much of our words carry similar weight in emotional currency. So discussing emotions with a tone of universality often creates a false comradery, particularly when shared with the same gender. So when disclosing a scenario to someone without labelling it as gossip you can shift the perspective of the event to fit your narrative by speaking to this emotional language. Regardless of what the said person in your story was actually saying. Witnesses can be derided as not measuring on the same terms if you are contradicted by them.

Remember  –

If a gossip target tries to gossip back suggest that all gossip counter attacks are just ‘projection’ or transference. In that way criticisms of you are merely reflections of the peculiar introjections of the other and thus further negative evidence  against them.


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