Akeed – Aya Khawaldeh
The number of rumors circulated by media outlets in March rose to 13 out of a total of 39 rumors against only 7 out of 34 rumors detected in February, Akeed’s media survey showed.
Rumors from abroad retraced to only two (5%) in March, against 15 rumors (1.4%) in the previous months – all of which started on social media. Once again, social media was the cause of a great deal of misinformation in March; accounting for 26 out of 39 false news, representing 66.7% of the total.
For the purpose of the analysis, Jordan Media Credibility Monitor “Akeed” has developed a methodology for monitoring rumors. In this report, a rumor is defined as “incorrect information pertaining to a Jordanian public affair or to Jordanian interests circulated among over 5,000 people via digital media.”
Typically, rumors flourish during turbulent times; e.g. crises, wars, and natural disasters. This does not mean that rumors will not resurface when things are back to normal. It is widely known that rumors fly high in certain social, political, and cultural environments. Their reach also depends on the level of mystery engulfing them as well as the importance and impact of their subject.
A quantitative and qualitative analysis was conducted to identify rumor sources and topics that go viral (on news websites and social media networks) and in traditional media outlets.
By source, the results unveiled that 95% (or 37) of rumors on social platforms or news websites detected in March came from local sources. Rumors from abroad retreated to only 5% (two rumors), which is substantially lower than the February figures, where 15 rumors were tracked and found to be spreading from foreign sources, representing 44.1% of overall rumors.
Another key finding was that 26 rumors, constituting 66.7% originated on local social media platforms. There were no rumors this time from Arab social media networks or from pages run by Jordanian expatriates.
Local, Arab, and Israeli traditional media outlets and new websites were to blame for 13 rumors (33.3%) in March. According to the study, 11 rumors (84.6%) were posted by local media sources and two rumors (15.4%) were circulated by Arab and Israeli media.
The number of rumors that revolved around local political issues in March stood at 15, constituting 38.5% of the total. Eleven rumors, representing 28.2%, were related to economic issues and 10 rumors tackled social issues (25.6%). Only three rumors were related to security issues in March; accounting for 7.7% of the total.
From Social Media to Mainstream Media
Akeed’s analysis showed that seven rumors, representing 18%, spread from social media platforms to news websites. This represents a sharp increase from the previous month before, where only one out of 19 rumors (3%) spread to news websites from social media.
Local media was the source of 11 out of 13 rumors circulated by local, Arab and Israeli media that are interested in Jordanian public affairs. This indicates that journalists are still competing for scoops at the expense of journalistic accuracy, harming, in effect media credibility.
One of the main rumors that spread from social to mainstream media included news carried by local news websites about Al-Sarhan Oil field 4, in El-Jafr area in the southern Jordanian desert. The news claimed that the field produces large volumes of oil derivatives on daily basis. The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources denied the news, explaining that the production was extremely low, rendering oil drilling economically infeasible. Rumors about the oil field flied high after a freight truck was burned causing injury to the driver in El-Jafr area close to the field.
Other fabricated news circulated on new websites quoted the Central Bank of Jordan as saying that the number of indebted women in prison was only three. The Central Bank Governor debunked the news, stressing that the Bank was not the competent authority to deal with the issue. He further explained that the Bank does not possess accurate information on the number of indebted women to make such a statement.
Other news websites showed the photo of a child with a small coin stuck in his throat claiming that it was a “screw” that the father inserted using a “drill” in one of Jordan’s governorate. Several media outlets circulated the news without verification. An official statement from the Ministry of Health refuted the news and clarified that it was a coin that got stuck in the kid’s throat but was later removed without surgical intervention. The photo caught the attention of Arab media which shared the incorrect information carried by local social media.
Key topics that spread like wildfire on social media was a report saying that a large quantity of carcinogenic chicken was being sold in the local market. Another rumor claimed that fast food packaging cause cancer. Such claims were refuted by Jordan Food and Drug Administration in several press releases. Similarly, an unsubstantiated rumor that Israeli rice was being displayed in the local market was rejected.
In the absence of official statements, several media outlets and social media platforms shared a report titled “Japan Rejects the Appointment of Lina Annab as Jordan’s Ambassador to Tokyo”. Akeed had earlier conducted a report on this and explained such a claim goes against the protocols of Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961.
Other fabricated news that caused media uproar claimed that a festival called “the Laying down Festival” was due to take place in Aqaba governorate. Before examining the news, local media rushed to denounce the event and to get official response from competent authorities in Aqaba. It is worth noting that followers of the facebook page that posted the announcement know that it was just another meme page. Akeed had already prepared a report around the rumor.
Other rumors that flied wide and fast by Arab and local social media activists showed a photo of an infant with a letter from his mother which claimed that it was taken in Tafileh governorate. The Public Security Department rejected the incident as baseless and explained that it took place in the Syrian Capital - Damascus
In dealing with content produced by social media users, Akeed believes that the general rule is to stay away from sharing until the content is verified through a reliable source. It argues that dependence on social media users as a source of news without taking into account the accuracy of information has led to the spread of false information and rumors.
This was the criteria used by Akeed to verify apparently false information or news and which proved baseless days after they were posted.
It is worth noting that the online media monitoring portal had already developed and published a set of fundamental principles that help verify content, whether visual, written, or audio produced by users. It advises that a set of questions be raised before taking a decision to share any content.