31 Rumors in February, 9 Concerning Medical Sector
Akeed - Aya Khawaldeh - Rumors increased two months into the new year, reaching 31 in February. Nine of them targeted the medical sector and Coronavirus. Akeed reports a slight rise in rumors compared to January, in which 30 rumors were recorded.
Akeed notes that media played a significant role in spreading these rumors, and were responsible for nine of them, 29% of the total number. Meanwhile, rumors originating in foreign sources decreased to three - 9.7%. Akeed counted 9 health-related rumors concerning Coronavirus as well as continued rumors about the Jordanian health sector.
Akeed’s quantitative and qualitative analysis examined rumors circulated across news sites, and social as well as mainstream media. Based on this, local sources (including social media and news sites) were responsible for 28 of the circulated rumors in February - 90.3%. Three rumours came from foreign sources.
22 rumors - or 71% - came exclusively from local social media platforms, none originating from Jordanian profiles abroad or other Arab sites.
Media sources spread nine rumors this month. Six, or two thirds, of those came from local institutions, with the other three starting in Arab as well as Arabic versions of foreign publications.
Health and social rumors made up the bulk in February, at nine rumors each. Five political rumors were circulated (16.2%), followed by security and economic rumors with 4 of each (12.9% each).
From “Social Networks” to Media Outlets
Three rumors that started on social media platforms made it to news sites. At 12%, this is higher than the rate in January during which two rumors migrated this way at 6.7%.
A rumor regarding the switch to Daylight Savings Time to occur on March 28th, 2020 was among those shared by media sources, which official sources then denied.
Media sources also published from social media pictures of machinery operating on As-Salt 60 Street collapsing, which Al Balqa’s Director of Public Works Omar Dabbas denied, noting that one vehicle slipped and collided with the street’s retaining wall and led to a small portion of it collapsing without any injuries.
Key Issues and Rumors:
Below are key rumors which gained wide-spread circulation on social media and mainstream media, according to the topic categorization used by “Akeed”.
As with January, several health rumors that circulated in February were concerning the new Coronavirus. Russia Today’s Arabic department denied allegations that they sent out a Tweet (that was widely shared on social media platforms) claiming that the Jordanian Ministry of Health announced 22 recorded cases of Coronavirus infection in the country. They clarified that the tweet was falsified.
Media sources also claimed that suspected Coronavirus patients were transferred from the quarantine hospital to another, after which the Ministry of Health announced that they do not intend to transfer any cases to the Judicial Department of the National Center for Mental Health, noting that the quarantine hospital is equipped with medical staff specialized in epidemiology (spread of infectious disease).
Rumors about the alleged sale of lands in Petra were among the most prominent disseminated on both social media platforms and media sources in February, which official sources denied, adding that all rumors of this nature are unfactual and misleading in regards to public opinion.
Social media users also shared information about the government selling some of its investments and stock in the private sector to the Social Security Corporation in order to bridge its deficit. The government dismissed these rumors as untrue.
Political rumors in February, circulated by local media sources originating on an Arab media source, included Saudi Arabia’s alleged elimination of its Kafala system as well as restricting the relationship between migrant laborers and their employers to a contract. Saudi Ministry of Labor responded that the Kingdom has not announced any decisions to completely eliminate the Kafala system.
Official sources denied rumors circulated on social media, regarding the appointment of a hundred employees on service contracts for a number of Parliament members, which was circulated on social media. The Minister of State for Prime Ministry affairs indicated that appointments are restricted, as he does not have individual authority to appoint, and appointments only take place through the Civil Service Bureau.
Among most widely shared rumors on social media platforms in February was the claim that the Ministry of Education had suspended school in multiple areas in Amman because of weather conditions, which the Ministry denied, clarifying that they only postponed the start of the school day until 9.30AM on February 12th.
Greater Amman Municipality also denied, via its media spokesperson, news social media users circulated about a pedestrian bridge collapsing on Medina Street, clarifying that a truck lightly collided with the bridge which resulted in a billboard falling while inflicting no damage.
Security sources denied several rumors in February, most prominent among them a video and collection of photos spread on social media platforms depicting Security officials purchasing new cars to monitor traffic violations on the streets, noting that the department owns older cars and has not purchased any new ones.
Security officials also discredited a rumor regarding the sale of a Civil Defense building to a foreign investor and the halt of electricity and water services within it. In a press release, they announced that the Civil Defense headquarters were going to be relocated to the former Public Security Directorate location in Abdali, part of a redistribution plan to be implemented in an effort to allocate more buildings for public service.
Akeed notes that the most important rule in interacting with content on social media platforms is not sharing it unless it comes from a verified source, as well as not relying on social media as a source of news without considering its accuracy. This is in order to limit the spread of false news and thereby rumors.
In this light, Akeed gleans which rumors are clearly false, and which news items turn out to be incorrect days after publication.
Akeed has developed several key steps in verifying user-generated content regardless of genre (be it visual, writtent, or even audio). These steps stress the importance of asking a series of questions before deciding to reproduce the content.
It is worth noting that Akeed has developed a methodology for detecting rumors. In this report, a rumor is defined as “incorrect information concerning Jordanian public affairs or pertaining to Jordanian interests circulated among over 5,000 people via digital media.”
Rumors typically flourish during turbulent times (crises, wars, natural disasters, etc). This does not mean that rumors will not spread under normal circumstances. It is also widely known that rumors receive specific attention in certain social, political, and cultural environments more than others. Their reach also depends on the level of mystery engulfing them as well as their importance, relevance, and impact.