In the village, there is always one person who knows all the gossip, the same person who moves it around. It could be the shopkeeper, the mama mboga or the nduthi man. Five minutes with them, and you end up with an extended list of people having illicit affairs, imagined or otherwise. You will know which couple had a recent tiff, who is smoking what, and why the local drug dealer has not been arrested.
Because the gossip is essentially by creatives, they cannot resist adding a spice here and there, and the more scandalous, the better. They are something similar to a certain clique of social media content creators, who are not really content creators unless creating lies can be termed as such.
They have friends, in their dozens. Only they are not really friends, just a sea of scandal-hungry humans, those with an unhealthy affinity for gossip, because they want to know who is having it worse than they are. These are the followers, similar to social media followers, and they are the ones that create influencers, just by their sheer numbers.
The village influencers are very good at moving sales and harmful gossip. In return for a favour, sometimes as simple as lunch, they will tell all and sundry how sumptuous the sukuma wiki you have on the farm is, even when they have never tasted it. For the right price, they will spread a bad rumour about a foe. Everybody in the village knows that the gossip-spreader tells more lies than truths, but they will believe him anyway because it is a sport to watch a fellow human being’s life being wrecked by lies. This, in social media terms, is called being a brand ambassador, or in general, being an influencer.
Therein lies the problem.
There is a generation that is unable to imagine a life without social media, but it is fairly new to us – less than a couple of decades old. But what social media stands for, is nothing new. It is just happening on a bigger scale; like, something could happen in my small village and within hours, it could be trending in New York, where you will have people who not only have no clue about who you are, but can also not point out the map of Africa, and they will have an opinion about you.
Like it often happens on mainstream social media, the village social media can set you up for gossip, and align you for bullying and trolling. You will walk past a construction site, and instead of catcalls, you will get silence or chuckles. You will have your name dragged in the mud so badly, that whenever you pass a group of women, they do not feel obliged to lie that they were gossiping about you.
Gossip, in my opinion, is healthy. Blather is what passes information around. If you ever claimed to me, that you do not gossip, I shall not believe you – unless you live among apes whose language you do not understand. You do not gossip? What do you talk about when you meet other humans? The weather? For how long can you discuss the current torrential rains? Politics? What a dreary choice of topic. Religion? Discussing religion is a sure way to get worked up. I would rather discuss people, those I know, and those I do not know.
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When someone calls you a gossip, they say you are interested in people, even though the word gossip has a negative connotation. There is constructive and negative gossip. A good session of gossip about someone who, for instance, has achieved something phenomenal, can leave you feeling inspired.
Back to social media; there is suddenly a need for many people to have a multitude of followers. When you have many followers, you are likely to make money. We are all chasing the shilling out here, and unfortunately, not everybody cares who they trample along the way.