The number of rumors that have spread in Jordan in March 2020 has seen a significant increase, compared to previous months, due to developments related to coronavirus. These developments included registering the first infected case and related rumors, as well as implementation of three defence laws that imposed a curfew and limited movement of individuals to curb the spread of the pandemic.
Akeed tracked the formation and spread of rumors, recording a total of 67 for the month of March. This is a noticeable increase from past months whereby only 31 were recorded in February and 30 in January of 2020.
During the month of March, there was a decline in the role of the mainstream media in disseminating rumors. Instead, social media platforms, like WhatsApp and Facebook, played a more prominent role. Mainstream media spread 12 rumors, or 18% of last month’s rumors, whereas social media spread 55, or 82%.
Most of last month’s rumors pertained to coronavirus. A total of 43 health related rumors were recorded, comprising 64% of last month’s total rumors.
The Sources Behind the Rumors
Quantitative and qualitative methods were employed to monitor the spread of rumors. The topics of the rumors spread by news sites, social media, and mainstream media were also considered. It appears that Jordanian sources, whether that be social media platforms or news sites, contributed to 57 of last month’s rumors, or 85%, while foreign sources spread 10 rumors at 15%.
The Source of Rumors According to the Method of Publication
Monitoring revealed that 55 rumors, or 82%, originated from social media, 49 of which came from local communication platforms. The other six from sources outside the country. One rumor came from a Jordanian journalist living abroad and five other rumors were published by Arabic communication sites.
The number of rumors disseminated by mainstream media reached 12, or 18%, 8 of which were published by local media and 4 by Arab media.
The Content of the Rumors
Majority of the rumors pertained to health issues, reaching a total of 43 rumors or 64%. Only 8 rumors, or 12%, pertained to social and security issues. Even fewer, 6 or 9%, pertained to political issues, and only 2 or 3% were recorded about the economic issues.
The Spread of Rumors from Social Media to Media Outlets
During the month of March, 6 rumors, or 9%, spread from social media to media outlets. This is a high percentage of rumors compared to the month of February in which only 3 rumors, or 12%, spread from social media to media outlets.
The rumors spread from social media to media outlets include one published by a local news source claiming that coronavirus causes infertility in men. However, Akeed determined that the information presented in this news story is not scientifically accurate.
Local media outlets also published, copying from social media, leaked official letters on government procedures regarding the provision and delivery of food supplies to citizens following the announcement of the curfew. The ministerial team leader for work continuity, Nidal al-Batayneh, denied the validity of this information, stating that it has no basis in truth. He added that the new procedures will be announced by the state media spokesperson and relevant ministers through press releases at the Crisis Management Center.
The most Prominent Rumors by Topic
The top rumor topics spread through social media and mainstream media include:
Akeed recorded 16 rumors related to false and misleading medical information last month. Among them: wearing rubber gloves in public spaces prevents infection, the virus is transmitted by domesticated animals, drinking warm water every 15 minutes stops the virus, and hand dryers are effective in preventing infection. In light of these rumors, Akeed started a campaign called “The Rumor and the Truth” whereby Akeed presents accurate information based on reports provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), in order to counter the rumors.
18 rumors were spread about coronavirus cases in Jordan, all of which were denied by official sources. These rumors include: claims of there being three coronavirus cases in Prince Hashem Hospital in Aqaba, a case in Royal Alia Military Hospital, the alleged evacuation of the Department of Internal Medicine in al-Bashir Hospital due to the presence of an infected family and domestic worker, a coronavirus case in Zarqa’s duty-free area, and claims that Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz has the virus.
Social media users circulated 5 audio recordings, spreading false and misleading information about the virus. Among them: an audio-recording of a woman declaring there to be a state of emergency in Jordan, after which she apologized and said the recording was intended to be light hearted humor among her family members, an audio-recording in which someone discusses the death of a relative and the gathering of hundreds of people in front of the new Zarqa emergency hospital, and an audio recording of a woman claiming that an employee at a bakery in Marj al-Hamam was infected and taken to the hospital by security services, only to be later denied by the security services.
Akeed also monitored the circulation of video clips. These included videos of people suffering from fatigue in public, with claims that they are infected with the coronavirus. Various local media outlets published a video, originally from social media, of a woman with coronavirus being transferred to Prince Hamzah Hospital. It was later confirmed that the video was merely a TV simulation demonstrating how patients with coronavirus are transferred to hospitals.
Of the most significant economic rumors that circulated on social media is one regarding an official decision to cut the internet in order to deal with the ramifications of coronavirus. The Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship denied this claim, explaining that the media misinterpreted a statement from the ministry about increased pressure on internet services, and that no decision was made to cut the internet.
A local media outlet published an article about the arrival of a ship carrying 4,000 people from Egypt. This claim, however, was denied by Eng. Mohammed Salman, the Director General of the Marine Authority.
The most significant political rumor spread on social media in March, unrelated to coronavirus, is the claim that Minister of Youth Fares Braizat intends to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections. However, Braizat later denied this claim.
Rumors also circulated about coronavirus and the security and safety of the state, among them: an audio recording in which a woman claims that Jordan is in a state of emergency due to coronavirus, inciting panic among Jordan’s residents and citizens. Eventually, the woman apologized for the audio recording which she said was intended to be a joke among her family members.
The Jordanian Embassy in Cairo denied rumors circulated on social media about measures to record all Jordanian citizens in Egypt, including tourists, students, and residents, in order to have them evacuated to Jordan. The embassy maintained that no official instructions in this regard have been received.
Individuals on WhatsApp circulated an announcement from the government about a month-long curfew in place starting on Saturday, March 28th. The government spokesperson denied these claims during a daily press conference, noting the government’s intention to prosecute the perpetrators of these rumors and hold them legally accountable.
Social media users spread images of shopping centers crowded with people trying to stock up on basic commodities. Local media outlets published these images claiming they were from Jordan, but in reality they were taken in Morocco.
Rumors also circulated about education, which included a rumor asserting that the second semester of schools and universities would be dropped. In addition, numerous local news outlets reported that a decision was released regarding details and official dates for electronic assessments. However, the Minister of Education denied these claims.
News spread on various Facebook pages claimed that the Grand Mufti of Jordan said that divorce during the quaratntine is not legitimate. The Grand Mufti later denied this statement.
The security services denied several rumors during the month of March. The most significant rumor was in a video clip circulated on social media about a
The security services denied the validity of several other rumors, among them: claims that citizens in Tafilah Governorate were breaching the curfew, claims that an employee at a bakery in Marj al-Hamam has the virus and was escorted by security services to the hospital, in addition to photos and videos posted on social media showing individuals escaping from their mandatory quarantine [imposed on those recently arrived in Jordan] in an Amman hotel. The security services verified that they are residents at the hotel who preferred to leave before the people who were to be quarantined arrived from the airport.
Additionally, a message was circulated over WhatsApp warning that certain groups were claiming to sterilize homes with the intention to burglarize them. Akeed reached out to the security forces who denied, and explained that there hasn’t been any complaints in this regard.