2016: Year of Media Lies

2016: Year of Media Lies

What Are the Top 10 False Rumors on Social Media Pages Locally?

What Are the Top 10 False News Stories in the Media on Local Events?

What Are the Top 10 False News Stories Regionally and Internationally?

The year of lies or year of media fabrications and fake stories; this is the least that can be said about 2016, which has witnessed an unprecedented acceleration in exploiting the media and social media networks to spread fake news and fabricated reports in different parts of the world. This has led to the emergence of a new concept this year. This concept, which describes a part of this phenomenon, has entered international encyclopedias and dictionaries. It is "post-truth," which refers to the context in which lies are mixed up with facts, while appeals to emotion and personal beliefs have greater influence on shaping public opinion. According to the Oxford Dictionary, "post-truth" denotes "circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."

Fabricated media reports, lies, and rumors have played a prominent role in international relations in recent decades. Perhaps, the most notable example here is the series of fake reports that preceded the occupation of Iraq in 2003. The same applies to the domestic situation in some countries. However, this phenomenon has grown significantly in recent years and reached its peak in 2016. It has benefited from the ethical and professional crisis witnessed by many mainstream media outlets and from the features provided by digital media, specifically social media networks. If we take a quick look at the year that has just ended, we will easily observe a number of issues that have created a stage for such practices. It is now easy to observe a number of key issues on which media lies and fabrications have had effects internationally.

The U.S. election season, for example, was one of the occasions for practicing lies and for accusations of lies in a manner that has even surprised the Americans, who noticed that this year"s elections were an exceptional case in this respect. Also, the failed coup in Turkey provided ample ammunition for lies and counter-lies, going way beyond the Turkish borders. This is in view of Turkey"s key role in regional politics, besides the controversial personality of the Turkish president domestically and abroad. For the sixth year, the war in Syria has continued to serve as a unique field for media lies to the extent that something resembling specialized monitoring and denial or correction of news has emerged by all parties. This is in addition to the characterizations given to the reports that preceded the referendum in Britain, leading to the Brexit.

The current report is about the broad outlines of the phenomenon on the local, regional, and international levels. It provides some representative samples, without claiming that what it provides is an accurate count or monitoring of this phenomenon. The report relied, in its international and regional material, on what has been monitored by some international establishments and centers that are specialized in observing issues, ethics, and standards related to the media profession. Locally, we relied on what has been accomplished by the Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) during its work in following the local media in 2016.

First, the 10 Most Widely Reported False Rumors on Social Media Networks in 2016 (Some of Them Found Their Way Into Mainstream Media):

  1. Closure of Streets of Amman and Zarqa on New Year"s Eve: This was the last rumor to spread on social media sites at the end of December 2016. The rumor alleged that a statement was issued by the Jordanian Ministry of Interior on the closure of the streets of Amman, Zarqa, and surrounding governorates and maintaining a close watch on them by the Internal Security Branch, coinciding with New Year"s celebrations. The statement urged citizens not to go to any mall until the end of the year for their own safety. The story is false. No official statement was issued by the Jordanian Ministry of Interior in this regard. Besides, there is nothing called Internal Security Branch in Jordan.
  2. Terrorist Operation in Kerak: Torrent of Incorrect Posts and News: Activists on social media sites led the media scene in following the terrorist operation in Kerak in December 2016. They committed many mistakes and published fabricated photos. The key posts had to do with the number of casualties in the operation, the escape of the attackers to Tafileh, and erroneous posts about the nationalities of the perpetrators. Also, incorrect pictures and videos were posted, as well as others from places outside Jordan, such as Palestine and Kurdistan, and were said to belong to the Kerak operation.
  3. Persons Posing as Electricity, Water Employees and Stealing Homes: Users on social media sites circulated a post warning that some persons are posing as employees of the Water Company or Electricity Company and stealing homes after being allowed to enter, according to Major General Mohammed Ibrahim Yousef from the Ministry of Interior. The post is fabricated. Major General Mohamed Ibrahim is a former Egyptian interior minister. The rumor spread in Egypt and was modified to fit the Jordanian context. The Public Security Directorate denied this rumor.
  4. Scary Scorpion Found in Jordan:  Some sites posted pictures said to be of a deadly scorpion found in Jordan called "Cyclocosmia Ricketti," which can cause paralysis to a person within two seconds and kill him within a matter of seconds. However, the picture with the story was of a spider, and not a scorpion, which is found in many regions, such as America, Africa, Japan, Mexico, and China. Jordan is not one of its natural habitats.
  5. False Reports and News About Amendments to School Curricula:  A lot of false news about the amendments of school curricula spread on social media sites, key of which was a photo of a paragraph of a school curriculum that spoke about "Jerusalem capital of Israel," which posters attributed to the curriculum of third grade in Jordanian schools. However, the photo belongs to an Israeli curriculum of elementary classes adopted by some schools in Jerusalem.
  6. Strange Object "Dragon" Falls on Kafranjah and Irbid:  A video was circulated on social media sites whose posters claimed that it belonged to a real dragon that fell from the sky in the town of Kafranjah in Ajloun. Others claimed that the incident occurred in Irbid. The truth is that the video that circulated in Jordan is taken from the Spanish TV program Cuarto Milenio (Fourth Millennium), which speaks about creating the model of a dragon, on the Spanish channel Cuatro. The program is devoted to explaining mysterious subjects, such as parapsychology, demonology, zoology, and myths.     
  7. "Daesh" Woman Blows Herself Up at Mosque in Ain al Basha: Activists published a post, which was circulated quickly, in June 2016 to the effect that a Daesh (ISIS) suicide bomber blew herself up among worshipers. The news was published under the headline "Attempted Suicide Bombing." This prompted a security source to make a statement under the headline "Daesh Woman Trying To Bomb Worshipers in Ain Al Basha Is a Lie." The source stressed the need for observing accuracy and "not publishing and circulating rumors that mislead public opinion."
  8. Fabricated Information, Photos, and Videos of Rukban Operation: The coverage of the bombing that targeted the border region of Rukban in June 2016 witnessed a wave of news, photos, and videos that were not proven to be true. This included news about the arrest of some of the perpetrators and a video of the car that carried out the attack, which was denied by the Armed Forces. This is in addition to many pictures, which proved to be incorrect. These included a picture of a wounded soldier, who was said to be one of the members of the Armed Forces. Anyone who carefully examines the picture and looks at the people trying to rescue him will discover that the incident occurred in a place full of civilians. Besides, the uniform is different from that of border guard personnel. The second picture was of a woman crying while kissing military boots. She was said to be one of the mothers of martyrs. It turned out that the picture was old and used a lot on many news sites as an archival picture or illustration on social media sites.
  9. Mother of All Storms Coming: Many news reports were circulated in January 2016 about an unprecedented snowstorm, which Jordan had not witnessed in 88 years. The news was widely circulated on social media networks, thus confusing many sectors and citizens. In general, last winter saw large circulation of rumors about rain, snow, and storms.  
  10. Yarmouk University Launches Initiative for Wearing Sharia-Compliant Dress: A false story, which spoke about an initiative said to have been launched by Yarmouk University to encourage female students to wear "sharia-compliant jilbab," triggered a large debate in March 2016 on Facebook. The posters were divided between supporters of the "initiative" and others who attacked it because they viewed it as exceeding the presumed role of universities. The story was proven to be false and baseless.

Second, False News and Reports in Local Media Outlets:

  1. Casualties in Crash of Pilgrim Bus (19 April 2016): It is a false story that spoke about "19 deaths and 20 injuries in an accident involving the crash of a Jordanian pilgrim bus" in Saudi Arabia. The news was published within two hours on more than 30 news sites without verifying its content. It was also published on the websites of three daily newspapers. It turned out later that the story, which media outlets copied from each other, was baseless. It was simply made up and it originated on social media sites. At midnight on Monday, 19 April 2016, dozens of websites hastened to publish a story about the death and injury of Jordanians performing umra (minor pilgrimage) in an accident involving the bus transporting them on the Tabuk-Medina road. According to the story, the injured received medical care, while the dead were evacuated to Khaibar Hospital. The words "breaking news" were seen on the homepages of these sites, which kept updating it, increasing the number of the dead and wounded.
  2. Deleting Surname on Smart Card (29 June 2016): Media outlets and news sites reported a story to the effect that the Civil Status Department had deleted the family name on the smart card of civil status, which it started issuing to citizens. The news quickly traveled on social media networks. Marwan Qteishat, director of the Civil Status and Passports Department, denied the news and considered it a rumor.     
  3. Fabricated News on Start of Eid al-Fitr (4 July 2016): A mistake or hasty reading of information, which is published or issued by an authorized agency, led many Jordanian media outlets to a professional error by publishing a story to the effect that Eid al-Fitr this year would definitely be on Tuesday, 5 July 2016. News circulated, citing a statement issued by the so-called Islamic Crescents" Observation Project, to the effect that "the first day of the month of Shawwal and the blessed Eid al-Fitr will be on Tuesday." Some sites continued to publish the news on their pages, while others hastened to remove it, having published the same story earlier. The information was incorrect and there were mistakes concerning the source and the name of the party to which the information was attributed.
  4.  One Quarter of Jordanians Mentally Ill (19 February 2016): On 29 February, a daily newspaper published an interview with the director of the National Center for Mental Health, in which it quoted him as saying that 25% of the Jordanian people are mentally ill. This information proved to be incorrect.
  5. Canceling Umra Visa Fees for Jordanians Nothing But a Rumor (10 October 2016): It is one of the sensationalist news stories. Media outlets published a story about a Saudi decision to cancel visa fees for Jordanians to enter Saudi Arabia. The story was circulated widely. The transport minister quickly denied it. It was also denied by the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in view of its impact on people wishing to perform umra. Likewise, the news was denied by the Tourism and Travel Agents Committee.
  6. Embezzlement at Ministry of Labor (17 January 2016): One of the dailies published an exclusive report to the effect that two employees of the Ministry of Labor had "embezzled" the amount of 2.150 million dinars, which the newspaper said they transferred to their wives and a friend by checks. According to the story, the five were still at large. Three of them managed to leave the country, while two remained in the Kingdom, but they were not arrested. The story carried the headline "Two Employees Embezzle 2.150 Million Dinars," and was published on the front page of the newspaper. By all standards, it was a scoop. However, the surprise came hours after publishing it when the Ministry of Labor issued a statement in which it explained that the said case was "old" and was discovered almost two years before. The Ministry of Labor "blamed" the newspaper for publishing the story in a manner that "suggested" that the case was new. According to the statement, this "caused confusion for public opinion."
  7. Jordanian Judge Kisses Hand of Teacher: A story circulated about a judge who kissed the hand of an accused person after discovering that the accused was his former teacher. The story ran on dozens of news sites. It was said to have taken place in Zarqa and was presented as a positive story. However, it turned out that the story was untrue and that the picture was published in some Turkish media outlets.
  8. Suicide of Tunisian Girl Turns Into Jordanian Story: The story was published in July 2016 after turning it into a Jordanian news item by a local website under the headline "In Pictures, Jordanian Girl Leaves Letter That Shakes the World Before Her Suicide." The story alleged the following: "A Jordanian young woman by the name of Maisa Sharouf, 18, committed suicide after being severely beaten by her brother, who discovered that she smoked cigarettes." The story then ran on other sites in the same wording. Another site changed the headline to make it read as follows: "Due to Smoking…Jordanian Woman Commits Suicide And Leaves Letter to Her Friend After Being Beaten by Brother." The false story was quickly picked up by social media sites.   
  9. Two Jordanian Female Students Were the First To Expose the Coup in Turkey (19 July 2016):  A story was published by Jordanian media outlets without verification, saying that two Jordanian students were behind exposing the failed military coup in Turkey by photographing the first tank by accident through the "Snapchat" application, which prompted the security authorities to act. The story spread quickly and attracted the attention of many websites, which republished it and attributed this information to Turkish President Erdo?an in statements made to Al Jazeera TV. The story proved to be fabricated and groundless.
  10. Reuters Fabricates Headline of Story on Baqa"a Incident: A report carried by Reuters, signed off by its correspondent in Amman, caused a shock, professionally and ethically, as the headline stated the following: "Jordanian Government: 5 Killed in Attack on Palestinian Refugee Camp in Amman." The report carried the initial statements made by Mohammed Momani, minister of information and official spokesman. However, the headline was "shocking" and was quoted by international media, as well as social media activists, since it came from an international news agency. The scope of misinformation in the headline is clear: "Attack on Refugee Camp." Then, the headline was presented as a government statement. It took the agency one whole day to partially change the headline of the report to make it read: "Attack on Security Center at Camp" instead of "Attack on Camp."

Third, False News and Reports in International Media Outlets:

  1. British Media Leads Campaign of False News for Brexit: British media outlets were accused of manipulating and influencing people"s opinions with regard to the referendum whose results led to the Brexit. Some of these outlets directly exhorted people to vote yes, such as The Daily Telegraph, while others published reports about the disadvantages of remaining in the EU, such as The Daily Express, followed by The Daily Mail and then The Sun and Daily Star. One of the key false and fabricated reports contained statements, saying that Britain paid 350 million pounds weekly to the EU and speaking about a plan to open UK doors to the migration of 1 million Turks. Some of them were accused of publishing wrong information on the expected arrival of millions of migrants in Britain from all over Europe. This issue led the headlines of many British newspapers.
  2. False News and Reports on What Happened During the Failed Coup in Turkey: Some media outlets claimed that the Turkish president had sought political asylum in Germany. The UAE channel Sky News and some Egyptian satellite channels committed this mistake while covering the first hours of the abortive coup in Turkey. This was the key media mistake during this event and perhaps throughout the year in the region. These channels reported breaking news to the effect that Turkish President Erdo?an had sought asylum in Germany. The news was attributed to U.S. sources; it spread like wildfire.  Afterward, within a short period, and as news about the failure of the coup broke successively, it turned out that the story was totally untrue. The UAE channel retracted it and apologized for disseminating it. Also, social media sites carried the picture of a soldier, whom they said was one of the participants in the coup, while being slaughtered at the Bosphorus Bridge. After checking, it turned out that the picture was taken in Syria in 2013 and that it belonged to a Syrian soldier. A video was carried by numerous media outlets, including CNN Türk, T24, and Cumhuriyet, which they said showed a bombing that occurred at a police center in the capital, Ankara.However, the truth is that the video was filmed in the Gaza Strip in 2014.   
  3. Clinton and the Child Sexual Exploitation Ring: At the height of the presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, mainstream media and social media sites helped promote so-called "Pizzagate," as dubbed by the U.S. press, against the background of accusations that Clinton was "involved," along with a number of close associates, with a ring that committed sexual crimes against children and took "Ping Pong" pizzeria, which is located northwest of Washington, as its headquarters. The scandal broke on 30 October through a tweet, which said that the U.S. police were investigating a case related to child trafficking and linked to circles close to Clinton--something that proved to be fake.
  4. Lies Attributed to Trump: One of the lies that Trump told and that was published by the media was his rejection of the Iraq War before it broke out and his accusation against the agencies in charge of the presidential elections of fraud, and that he had stated this before and after the announcement of the results. The media was blamed for publishing everything that Trump said without verification.
  5. Massive Crowd Supporting Clinton: Many media outlets reported that a massive crowd of Hillary Clinton"s supporters turned up at one of her meetings at Ohio University to show her popularity without mentioning the whole truth, which includes holding a concert before the meeting for famous DJ Samantha Ronson, and that President Obama received around 35,000 people at the same place in 2010, compared to her supporters, who totaled 18,000 only. Besides, Trump assembled similar numbers in his meetings, but the media failed to mention them. Another false piece of news was circulated, claiming that a federal officer who was investigating the question of the email of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was found dead.     
  6. Erroneous News Reports Claiming That Pope Francis Supported Trump: False reports spread in the media and on social media networks in the United States, claiming that Pope Francis supported U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump during the election campaign.
  7. Aleppo, Opponents Exchange Media Mistakes: One of the key media mistakes in regard to covering the fighting in Syria was a story broadcast by RT (Russia Today) TV, in which it showed a video, which it said was filmed in areas under the control of the Syrian Army that were shelled by Nusrah Front. It turned out that the video was taken by a Syrian opposition activist and showed footage of attacks against opposition-held areas. At the same time, BBC showed another video taken in areas controlled by the Syrian government, but the channel said that these were opposition areas. The channel only offered a clarification on Twitter, while activists criticized it because the video was the lead story in a major newscast. In both cases, the two channels were accused of committing a deliberate and intentional mistake.
  8. False Story About To Trigger Nuclear Crisis Between Pakistan and Israel: A fabricated news report published by the website AWD News on Tuesday, 20 December, led to provocation and nuclear tension between Israel and Pakistan, which reached the extent of threatening to use force. This serious development shows the great impact of these reports, which could have repercussions on the ground. The report carried a fake statement, claiming that former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya"alon stated that his country "would destroy Pakistan" if the latter sent military forces to Syria. The report quoted Ya"alon as saying: "We will destroy them with a nuclear attack." The site offered no proof of the truth of the statement. This made Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif issue a reciprocal nuclear threat. Hours later, it turned out that the first piece of news was fake and untrue.
  9. United Nations Considering Decriminalizing Marijuana: In April 2016, The Los Angeles Times published a press release, which claimed that the United Nations was considering decriminalizing marijuana. The newspaper obtained the release from a fabricated news site, which claimed that the release was issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as part of its new policy.  
  10. Shooting in Orlando: The British newspaper The UK Mirror published fake statements, attributed to American televangelist Pat Robertson, on the shooting at a nightclub in Orlando. The newspaper took the statements from a satirical website without checking the site and its credibility. The newspaper later deleted the report after Robertson had filed a complaint.