Do you know that signature line from Henry Jenkins about how if it doesn't spread, it's dead? Yes, well, this is the "if it doesn't spread, you are dead" kind of thing: a military rumor manual dated 1943, now declassified, and unearthed by a colleague of mine. Plenty of solid insight for the designers of spreadable media, some already familiar from the books like Made to Stick and Rumor Psychology, written more than half a century after this document. My top ten favorites follow, mostly verbatim. And I really like how they use of "design" and "rumor" in the same sentence:
1. Effective rumor design requires special kinds of intelligence on Rumor Targets.
2. The design of a rumor is largely determined by the job it has to do. The slogan-type rumor ("England will fight to the last Frenchman") is especially adapted to summarizing opinions which are already widely accepted. Narrative-type rumors, on the other hand, aim at introducing information which will create or shape new attitudes.
3. The successful propaganda rumor is self-propelling in a high degree, retains its original content with a minimum of distortion, and confirms to strategic requirements.
4. The form and content of a rumor should be tailor-made for the channel through which it is to be initiated. (The best type of rumor to be spread through diplomatic circles: clever epigrams.) Different channels of rumor initiation and dissemination frequently require different forms and contents for the rumor.
5. A successful rumor must take advantage of the state of mind of the people for whom it is intended.
6. The rumor should be sufficiently brief and simple to survive in memory of successive narrators.
7. The rumor's plot should recapitulate precedents and traditions in the history and folklore of the group.
8. A successful rumor is a function of the momentary interests and circumstances of the group. It provides justification for suppressed fears, hatreds, or desires.
9. Unless most subtly handled, counter-rumors may emphasize and increase the effectiveness of the rumor to be countered.
10. Design different rumors that reveal the same "information".