Communal reinforcement is a social phenomenon in which a concept or idea is repeatedly asserted in a community, regardless of whether sufficient empirical evidence has been presented to support it. Over time, the concept or idea is reinforced to become a strong belief in many people's minds, and may be regarded by the members of the community as fact. Often, the concept or idea may be further reinforced by publications in the mass media, books, or other means of communication. The phrase "millions of people can't all be wrong" is indicative of the common tendency to accept a communally reinforced idea without question, which often aids in the widespread acceptance of urban legends, myths, and rumors.
Communal reinforcement works both for true and false concepts or ideas, making the communal reinforcement of an idea independent of its truth value. Therefore, the fact that many people in a given community believe a certain thing is not indicative of its truth or falsehood, for just as a false concept or idea can be accepted as fact in a community via communal reinforcement, so can a true concept or idea. One possible way to remember that an idea or concept is not necessarily false simply because it is communally reinforced is to remind oneself that the scientific community strives to communally reinforce ideas and concepts when and (ideally) only when aforesaid idea or concept explains all evidence available at the time (as in a scientific theory, such as the theory of gravity or the theory of evolution*) and/or is supported by all evidence available at the time (as in a scientifically observed phenomenon, such as gravity or evolution, both supported by vast evidence including direct observation of the phenomena independent of the veracity of the theories used to explain how they work, or as in a scientific law such as any of the laws of thermodynamics or laws of motion).
*Please note that the phraseology "theory of gravity" does not implicate "gravity: the theory" nor does "theory of evolution" implicate "evolution: the theory"; despite the common misconception that evolution is "both a fact and a theory", as the soundbyte goes, it is, in reality, like gravity, an observed phenomenon ("fact") for which the phrase "theory of evolution" implies the existence of a theory explaining how it works, rather than implying that "evolution" is the name of the theory itself. Evolution by natural selection, evolution by gradual modification and its modified punctuated equilibrium form are three prominent theories of the fact or phenomenon known as "evolution", which is itself no more a theory than gravity (which, in turn, has multiple theories of its own dedicated to explaining it).
Communal reinforcement can be seen as a positive force in society if it reinforces a concept or idea which is true or beneficial to society, such as the discouragement of drunk driving. Conversely, it can be seen as a negative force if it reinforces a concept or idea which is untrue or harmful to society, such as the avoidance of bathing in Medieval Europe.
Reading at Arm's Length: Fielding's Contract with the Reader in 'Tom Jones.' (Novel by English Writer Henry Fielding)(Making Genre: Studies in the Novel or Something like It, 1684-1762)
Jun 22, 1998; Academic readers of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749) have sensed in what John Richetti calls "its sustaining network of ironies"...