Akeed - Aya al-Khawaldeh - The spread of rumors in Jordan declined markedly in April compared to March, due to warnings by the government through Defense Order No. 8, which increased the penalties against anyone who starts or spreads rumors.
Akeed monitored the formation and spread of rumors during April and found a fotal of 49 rumors, a decrease from March, when 67 were recorded. But these numbers are still notably higher than they were during January and February of this year, which saw 30 and 31 rumors respectively.
Social media continues to be the primary source of these rumors. In April, social media sites started or promoted 38 rumors, accounting for 77.5% of cases recorded that month. The role of the media in promoting rumors, meanwhile, was similar to the previous month. Media outlets promoted 11 rumors, accounting for 22.5% of cases in April.
The source of the rumors: internal or external?
With a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methodology, Akeed Media Credibility Monitor dealt with rumors spread through news websites, social media sites, and media outlets, and found 49 rumors that originated within Jordan, whether through social media sources or news sites during April. This accounted for 100% of all rumors documented during the month; none were recorded coming from outside the country.
Rumors sources according to the method of publication
Through Akeed’s monitoring, it was found that 38 rumors originated on social media, accounting for 77.5% of the month’s total. All of the rumors came from local social media accounts.
The number of rumors promoted by the media, meanwhile, was 11, accounting for 22.5% of the total. The rumors again originated from local outlets.
The number of rumors that focused on the health and security sectors were equal, with 11 each, or 22.5% of the total for April. The number of rumors that dealt with political issues, meanwhile, was 10, or 20.4%. 9 more rumors dealt with social issues, accounting for 18.3% of the total, while the economic sector recorded the lowest number of rumors during April, with only 8 total, or 16.3%.
From social media to media outlets
Four rumors spread from social media to news outlets in April, 8% of the total number of recorded rumors. This is fewer than March, when 6 rumors were spread this way, or 9% of that month’s total.
Some of the rumors that spread from social media accounts to media outlets, which were published by news sites and spread through radio broadcast media, focused on a set of government decisions that allegedly would allow the government and some private and public institutions to resume their activities by mid-April. The government denied these rumors and indicated that no decision had been made in this regard.
Some media outlets also circulated reports about an alleged government decision to permit the use of private vehicles starting the second week of Ramadan, and to lift the curfew for governorates that did not record any cases of coronavirus. This was also denied by the government, which confirmed until this time, these were just suggestions, and there had been no official decision on the issue.
Local media outlets, copying from sources on social media, also published reports on leaked publications that allegedly detailed government procedures for providing and delivering food supplies to citizens after the curfew announcement. These reports were denied by the head of the Ministerial Team for the Continuity of Work, Nidal al-Batayneh, who said that none of what was published had any basis in truth, and that new procedures would be announced through the Government Spokesperson and the relevant ministers during the press conferences in the National Center for Security and Crises Management.
Most prominent rumors by topic
Below are the most prominent rumors that Akeed monitored, which spread widely via social media accounts and media outlets, listed according to Akeed’s classification system.
There was a wide range of rumors about the coronavirus, its consequences, and procedures addressing it, during the month of April. Akeed monitored 7 rumors about the registration of new cases of coronavirus, and 2 about deaths due to the virus. Media outlets and activists on social media spread information about the registration of new cases in Karak governorate, the city of Salt, and Sweileh neighborhood in Amman, as well as two cases in Irbid governorate during a period in which there were no reported cases.
Information was also spread widely about the purported infection of the wife of a medic in the Civil Defense, and her escape from the hospital, which was denied by the security services, who said that the original message was inaccurate. They explained that the wife visited the hospital, and after leaving with her husband, a nurse reported that she was suspected of having been infected with the virus. At that point she and her husband were contacted and returned to the medical center, and the necessary tests were conducted.
Social media users also recently circulated that a driver who is a resident of the Hashemi district in Zarqa governorate was infected with the coronavirus, which scared local residents. The authorities confirmed that a driver was diagnosed with the virus near the border with a neighboring country, but said that he did not enter the governorate, and that his contacts were tested and their results were negative.
Akeed also monitored two rumors about people who passed away due to the coronavirus. The first was a migrant at Northern Badia Hospital, who allegedly passed away as a result of the coronavirus. This was denied by the hospital’s director Doctor Abdullah Shamikh, who said that the patient had already passed away by the time he arrived at the emergency room and that after conducting laboratory testing it was revealed that he did not have coronavirus.
Social media users also shared information about the death of an employee at the King Abdullah University Hospital in Irbid, which was denied by the hospital’s director, Doctor Basil Obeidat, who explained that an employee in the Health Department passed away as a result of acute heart attack.
Social media users also shared video clips and audio recordings that contained fabricated and incorrect information. This included an individual who promoted incorrect information about the presence of a number of coronavirus cases in Amman’s Sweileh neighborhood. Security forces tracked and arrested the person who owned the clip.
Among the most prominent economic rumors during the month of April was the circulation of a video clip on social media depicting the destruction of large quantities of vegetables and fruits in Al-Arda central market, allegedly after it was discovered that one of the employees there was infected. This was denied by government sources, who said that the clip was from a neighboring Arab country.
Government agencies denied a number of rumors related to groups affected by the current crisis. An online link claimed to lead to a site where Jordanian daily laborers could request assistance if they did not receive aid from charitable organizations, but the government clarified that this was untrue, and that assistance for these workers will come from the National Aid Fund and will be announced at a later date.
Among the most prominent rumors in this context was a rumor claiming that those who lost their sources of income were to apply to an online platform launched by the Social Security Corporation to obtain a salary of 250 dinars. The spokesperson of the corporation, Musa al-Subeihi, clarified that this is incorrect, and the assistance will be provided in the form of food packages to workers in the informal sector in need of support.
The most prominent political rumors spread during the month of April included one which was widely spread through social media and media outlets, related to a series of procedures the government was allegedly planning to take to roll back ongoing measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus. These included changes in government regulations regarding university attendance, the resumption of work in government institutions, the reopening of cafes and restaurants during Ramadan and after the Eid al-Fitr holiday, the lifting of the curfew on provinces that have not recorded any cases of the virus, and the lift on the ban on private vehicle use. This has been denied by the government, stressing that what has been shared is suggestions, rather than formal decisions.
Local news sites published a number of news reports about the resignation of several ministers on Monday, April 5, and some news sites announced Minister of Labor Nadal al-Batayneh’s intention to resign from his post in the Ministry, which was denied by a government source.
Media outlets also said that Aqaba’s Director of Health called for the isolation of Aqaba governorate, and to refuse to allow permit-holders to enter through customs. The Director said that this was a misunderstanding of a statement he made via a broadcast, and that he was calling for a tightening of public safety measures at the entrances and exits of Aqaba city, to prevent the coronavirus from spreading into Aqaba via border crossings.
Some of the most widely-circulated social rumors spread during the month of April were related to education. Activists on social media spread information about a government decision to return students in secondary school to class with their teachers, which was denied by the government, which emphasized that what was circulated were recommendations rather than decisions.
A rumor was also repeated again in April about the cancellation of the second semester in universities and schools. Social media users republished false statements by the Secretary General of the Ministry of Education, Nawwaf al-Ajarmah, saying that teaching staff will return by the beginning of May. This was denied by Ajarama, who clarified that the return of teachers and students will be clearly announced by official sources.
Security authorities denied several rumors during April. Among the most prominent was a voice recording spread via WhatsApp, which claimed that toxic gases were present in the air and would affect the people’s safety. The recording emphasized the need for people to restock supplies before the start of the curfew, imposed on citizens throughout the day, on Friday, April 3rd. Security services denied this as a baseless rumor and cautioned against spreading it.
The security services also denied the accuracy of a number of video clips, including one that claims to depict the arrest of a groom who violated his self-isolation pledge after leaving quarantine, and his greeting by his family in Amman. The security services clarified that this is an old clip, and relates to an argument between a number of individuals in a neighborhood within Amman.
An old video clip was also circulated, depicting a conflict that took place several months ago between individuals, which involved the use of firearms. Those posting it claimed it depicted a recent conflict in Irbid governorate. This was denied by the official spokesperson for the Public Security Directorate, who confirmed that the clip was old and the purpose of resharing it was to spread fear and panic among citizens.
Security services also recently denied the accuracy of a video clip shared via social media that allegedly showed a security raid of a farm. The spokesperson for the Public Security Directorate clarified that no raid was carried out, and the clip was depicting a mock exercise carried out by the Anti-Narcotics Department three years ago.
Akeed Monitor believes that the basic rule for dealing with content that is presented on social media is to not reshare unless there is a reliable source to verify the information from, and that relying on social media users as a source of news without taking into account the accuracy of this information (or the lack thereof) is a major factor in the spread of misinformation and rumors.