AKEED, Anwar Ziadat
Between 5 May and 5 August 2018, local cyberspace witnessed the spread of 92 rumors, 41% of which came from outside Jordan, whether through social media platforms, news websites, or media outlets, according to a monitoring conducted by the Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED). The AKEED report used a quantitative and qualitative methodology to examine the rumors on digital media (websites and social media networks) and the spread of these rumors on professional Jordanian media outlets.
Rumors have existed in all ages. They are either completely fabricated information or half truths or a mix of fabricated and correct information. Rumors usually thrive under abnormal circumstances, such as times of crises, wars, natural disasters, and others. However, this does not mean that they disappear under normal circumstances. It is common knowledge that rumors spread more in certain social, political, and cultural environments. Their spread depends on the level of their mystery and the impact of their subject.
AKEED has developed a methodology for monitoring rumors. According to this methodology, a rumor is defined as "incorrect information related to a Jordanian public affair or Jordanian interests, circulated by approximately more than 5,000 people through digital media. This rumor may have passed from digital media to professional media."
The AKEED monitoring showed that 70% of the rumors during this period came from local and external social media platforms, while 30% of these rumors came from local and external media outlets and websites. Social media platforms as a source of rumors were broken down as follows: 38% for local platforms, most of which belong to individuals; 25% for platforms of Jordanians from abroad; and 7% for the activity of Israelis, specifically Edy Cohen, who introduces himself as "an academic and researcher specialized in Middle East affairs."
Also, the share of media outlets and news websites, which is 30% of sources of rumors, was as follows: 21% for news websites and local media outlets; 6% for Arabic news websites interested in Jordanian affairs; and 3% for Syrian and Lebanese media outlets connected to the Syrian regime or opposition.
Topics of Rumors
It turned out that rumors related to local political conditions and their developments in the recent period constituted around 47% of the total rumors that were in circulation. Around 16% were related to local economic issues, while rumors about the security situation constituted around 14%. Other issues, key of which are social issues, constituted around 23%.
One of the key issues, which provided fertile ground for rumors, was the tobacco factory. Around 17% of the rumors involved this issue. Meanwhile, 9% of the rumors were linked to the formation of the government of Dr. Omar Razzaz and its persons. As for the recent travel of King Abdullah II, it was found in 7% of the rumors.
Under general headlines, news about corruption constituted 29% of the rumors, news of incidents and crimes 16%, and news of health, art, and culture around 22%.
Rumors on Professional Media Outlets
Social media was a source of around 70% of rumors. The monitoring showed that local news websites adopted 10% of the rumors that spread on social media sites, while 7% of the rumors were republished by adopting them in opinion pieces published on websites. Meanwhile, daily newspapers did not adopt such rumors in their news items, while some features of rumors appeared directly or indirectly in a limited number of opinion pieces.
After monitoring a series of rumors on professional media outlets (news websites and daily newspapers), including news items and opinion pieces, it turned out that the media content whose origins go back to rumors is divided into four main categories:
First, fake news, which is baseless and which takes advantage of media focus on top issues and the appeal of some sensitive issues.
Second, news that depends on half truths. It includes correct information and other news that is either incorrect or inaccurate.
Third, inaccurate leaks. Most of these leaks came from sources that are unknown to the media outlet. Sometimes, these leaks are used to serve political interests and agendas.
Fourth, media speculation. The danger of this type of media content appears when it exceeds professional standards that allow for presenting expectations in an objective manner without exaggeration.
The passing of rumors from social media to professional media outlets is a serious development. This is attributed to the information vacuum on the one hand and the lack of professionalism and methods of verification on the other.
Digital media, specifically social media, is the fastest in the spread of rumors. At the same time, the same speed can be used to deny and correct rumors. The rumor lifecycle depends on the size of the information vacuum on the topic of the rumor, the strength of the parties that adopt it first, and the quick response to deny it and by which party.
The AKEED monitoring of the rumor lifecycle during this period observed that there are mostly two types of rumors in line with the first common and short-term lifecycle, which was strongly denied and by reliable sources. The average age of these rumors was two to three days. The second type involves long-term rumors, whose average age is six to eight days. These rumors are mostly not denied at the right time and could be linked to mysterious or undecided issues. Or, conflicting information might be offered concerning them.
Interaction on social media networks in handling rumors includes three categories. The first is that of supporters. It begins with the people who initially adopt the rumor. The strength of the rumor depends on the effect of those people on the network, their status, and the size of their following. This is in addition to the nature of the rumor and the extent of mystery and sensationalism in it. The second category is that of the undecided. They usually inquire and look for more information. The third category is that of opponents. This group begins with the people who initially oppose the rumor, and then it expands depending on the strength of alternative information.
The AKEED Monitor believes that the basic rule in handling user-generated content on social media is not to republish except in the case of verification from a reliable source. Moreover, dependence on social media users as a source of news, without taking into consideration the accuracy of this information, has been causing the publishing of a lot of incorrect news and rumors. Therefore, the AKEED monitoring depended on identifying rumors that are clearly false or news that has proven to be incorrect in the days that followed its publishing.
AKEED had earlier developed and published a set of fundamental principles for verifying user-generated content, regardless of the type of content, whether it is visual, written, or even audio. A number of questions have to be asked before publishing user-generated content.