Akeed –Aya Khawaldeh
The number of rumors saw a negligible drop to 42 in August compared with 43 rumors the previous month. However, the number is still high when compared to the 36 rumors detected in June and the 35 rumors detected in May, Jordan Media Monitor “Akeed” revealed in a report.
Media outlets played a key role in spreading rumors in August, circulating 18 rumors, or 42.9% of the total. This compares with 12 rumors, or 27.9%, in July and only five rumors, or 13.8% of total rumors in June, according to the report. Twenty-four rumors, on the other hand, were circulated on social media, representing 57.1% of the total.
Rumors around political and economic issues were widely circulated in August, each amounting to 13, with a share of 31% of total rumors. Rumors about social issues, in the meantime, have substantially dropped to only 6, or 14.2% during the same month. The share of rumors related to security issues in August was close to what was reported in previous months.
For the purpose of the analysis, Jordan Media Credibility Monitor “Akeed” developed a methodology for detecting 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.”
It is worth noting that, typically, rumors flourish during turbulent times; e.g. crises, wars, and natural disasters. This does not mean that rumors will not spawn when things are 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, according to the online portal.
Akeed’s quantitative and qualitative analysis examined rumors circulated across news websites, social and mainstream media. It emerged that all rumors in August came from local sources; i.e. social platforms or news websites.
August figures showed that 24 rumors, or 57.1% came from social networking sites – all local.
The month also witnessed a rise in the number of rumors circulated by mainstream media and news website to 18 or 42.9% of the total. Although the figure is relatively close to the 12 rumors shared by the same media in July, it is more than three times higher the 5 rumors disseminated through the same media in June. In May, seven rumors were circulated by local media outlets. No rumors were detected in Arab and “Israeli” media during the month in question, Akeed said.
Fabricated stories revolving around political and economic issues topped the list of rumors in August, each accounting for 31% of the total – 13 rumors each. Ten rumors, or 23.8%, were related to security issues while the share of social issues of total rumors dropped to 6, representing at 14.2%.
From “Social Networks” to Mainstream Media
Seven rumors, or 16.7%, spread from social networking platforms to news websites in August, up from 4 rumors, representing 9.3% of total rumors in July.
An unsubstantiated report posted by some local news websites quoted the former head of the Jordan Institution for Standards and Metrology Department as saying that new amendments to the Standards and Metrology Law will be introduced. Under the amendment, products entering the Kingdom’s markets will no longer be marked with their country of origin, said the report. The claims were rejected as baseless by the Department, which noted that marking imported goods with their country of origin is a technical requirement that cannot be violated or overlooked.
In another fabricated report, MP Tareq Khouri was quoted as saying that the Syrian Transport Minister paid an official visit to Amman – which was also refuted by official sources.
Another unverified news report said a bus was shot at in Petra, alleging it was a tourist bus. Other websites said tour guides were in the bus when the shooting took place. The truth is that it was a bus for transporting tour guides not tourists, but it was vacant when the incident took place.
Several other websites posted a photo purportedly of a quarrel between two members of Amman Chamber of Commerce. The news also claimed that bottles of water were thrown during the brawl. Hala Atiyyat, head of PR at the Chamber told AKEED the news was groundless.
Local media outlets were also misled by contradictory government statements revolving around a video purportedly of a cockroach found in a respiratory equipment at a health facility. Initially, Dr. Abdul Razzaq Khoshman, director of Zarqa Public Hospital said the video was authentic, but that it was a malicious act. He later said the clip was fabricated and that the incident did not take place inside Zarqa Public Hospital. For its side, the Ministry of Health noted that the facility shown in the video is not affiliated with any public hospital in Jordan.
Key rumors in August
Economic Rumors: Allegations that a minister participated in a tender for the expansion of a desalination plant was a major rumor in August. The Ministry of Water and Irrigation clarified that all of its tenders are handled by the Government Tenders Department.
Other reports flying around during the month claimed that water supply from pumping stations and wells in Jerash governorate was halted. It was later revealed that, after several people were admitted to hospital with poisoning in Jerash, water supply from private stations that sell water to the public was halted. Neither the Ministry nor the Jordan Water Authority had anything to do with these stations.
The government plan to raise the sales tax in Aqaba Special Economic Zone to 16% - similar to the rate imposed across Jordan - was another key rumor detected in August. Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority was quick to refute the rumor.
Another claim that all workers at Wadi Bin Hammad Dam were dismissed after work in the dam came to a halt, was debunked by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation. The project was up and running, according to the Ministry, and should be completed by end of next year.
Political Rumors: Rumors circulated by social media users around political issues included a report that said new instructions pertaining to the entry of Jordanians to Lebanon will apply. The news story was swiftly denied by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates. The procedures will remain unchanged, and Jordanians holding permanent passports do no need a visa, confirmed the Ministry.
A local news website shared a fake news story that initially appeared on social media about the engagement of HRH Crown Prince Al-Hussein Bin Abdullah II. Old photos, published during HRH visit to Bahrain where the Crown Prince met Jordanian expatriates in the Gulf state, were used in the fabricated report.
As part of its fact-checking mission, Akeed also looked into allegations that the Secretariat of the House of Representatives has stopped publishing the names of MPs who missed sessions, which turned out to be baseless. Dr. Taher Wreikat, head of Media Affairs at the House of Representatives stressed that “the Secretariat has not stopped disclosing the names of absent MPs. Additionally, the House reports on sessions that lack quorum in order to enhance transparency, and in line with the Parliament’s openness policy with the media, noted the official.
Another false news claimed that a secretary at the Jordan Investment Commission earns JD8,000-JD10,000 a month, was quickly denied by the Commission. The secretary of the president of the commission spans 20 years and her salary does not exceed JD600, said the commission, adding that none of the employees make this much.
Social Rumors: Among the widely circulated rumors in August was a report claiming that the expected minimum score for admission to the college of medicine is 99.3% - in the General Secondary Certificate Examination (Tawjihi). Anyone with lower marks will not stand a chance, alleged the report. Akeed, which verified the content, found that the news was incorrect. The spokesperson of the Ministry of Education and Scientific Research said the minimum score has not been announced yet, pending the next round of complementary exams.
Fabricated news that employees will receive JD100 dinars as a one-time payment on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha, popped up again on social media. News that a planetoid hit the earth on Arafat Waqfa Day, was also denied by Jordanian Astronomer Imad Muhahed
Social media users also circulated news saying Prime Minister Omar Razzaz has granted permission for shooting the movie “Jaber”, following the uproar the film has sparked – which was also denied by government spokesperson Jumana Ghuneimat.
Rumors around Security Issues: Older videos, and other clips which had nothing to do with Jordan, that spread on social media were similarly dismissed as baseless by security forces. These included a clip showing an explosion of a vehicle for transporting gas cylinders that took place 7 years ago at the Sports City area. Another video showed masked attackers assaulting several people and firing at a man at a billiards club in Sweifieh area. It is worth noting that Akeed had prepared a report on sharing violent videos without verifying their source or the goal behind publishing them.
Likewise, security forces dispelled several rumors on suicides and homicides, including a suicide attempt by a girl in Irbid, and the death of a citizen by tear gas during recent events in Ramtha.
In dealing with content produced by social media users, Akeed believes the general rule is to stay away from sharing posts until the content is verified through a reliable source. Dependence on social media users as a source of news without taking into account the accuracy of information leads to the spread of false information and rumors, explains Akeed.
Furthermore, the fact-checking portal has published a set of fundamental principles that help verify content, whether visual, written, or audio, produced by users. Before taking a decision to share any content, a set of questions should be raised, advises Akeed.