Rumormongers: They Lack Information Sometimes, and Do It on Purpose Occasionally

Medical Exemptions and Electricity Bill…Two Examples From New Year

Amman, AKEED

Given the difficulty of controlling the content disseminated on their platforms, social media sites are still the fastest means of spreading rumors and transferring them to mainstream media outlets that do not check accuracy and credibility standards in their reports and news before publishing. With the beginning of 2017, many rumors have spread in and via the media. In this report, we will discuss two of them. The first can be considered an example of rumors based on insufficient information and lack of verification, while the second is a sample of deliberate or fabricated rumors.

The first rumor was published under the headline "Canceling Medical Exemptions." The items published on the first day depended on a post by MP Mohammed Riyati on his personal page. He stated the following:

The prime minister has sentenced you and your children to death!

"Prime Ministry Decision"

#No medical exemption may be issued to all Jordanian citizens carrying national numbers at the King Hussein Medical Center, King Hussein Cancer Center, University of Jordan Hospital, or all military hospitals. They have to be treated at their own expense.

#No medical exemption may be issued to all members of the population of the Gaza Strip living in Jordan at the King Hussein Medical Center, King Hussein Cancer Center, University of Jordan Hospital, or all military hospitals. They have to be treated at their own expense.

The issue has generated broad reactions in view of the nature of the subject and its importance for a large sector of the population. Some headlines were largely sensational:

Riyati: Prime Minister Sentenced You and Your Children to Death

Deputy Riyati: Mulki Suspends Medical Exemptions

Deputy Riyati: Mulki Sentenced Jordanians and Their Children to Death by Suspending Medical Exemptions for Treatment of Cancer Patients at Hospitals

Mulki Suspends Medical Exemptions; People Demand Reversing Decision

Medical Exemptions Raise Fear of Jordanians; Minister in a "Meeting"

All the previous headlines contained what resembles a "generalization," which suggests suspending medical exemptions in a final and categorical manner. However, the truth is different, even according to what Riyati himself wrote in the details of what he had published. He noted that the cancellation had to do with hospitals that are not affiliated with the Jordanian Ministry of Health. But the shocking expression he used at the beginning of his post was the one that attracted the attention of social media activists and editors of electronic sites the most.

On the other hand, the government denial was not clear and exact, particularly in regard to the statement issued by the Ministry of Health and published under the headline "No Official Decision To Suspend Medical Exemptions to Uninsured," which quoted Health Minister Dr. Mahmoud Sheyyab as saying that the government had not issued any decision to suspend medical exemptions given by the Prime Ministry for uninsured people and that the government continued to grant exemptions. He stated that what was reported in some media outlets and social media about suspending them was untrue.  

Meanwhile, the daily press devoted large space to the Ministry of Health to present its viewpoint, which revealed a government trend to rationalize the sums allocated for exemptions and give priority in exemptions to the hospitals of the Ministry of Health. This includes some cancer cases that used to be referred to the King Hussein Cancer Center or other cases that used to be referred to university hospitals and Royal Medical Services hospitals.

The clarifications followed days of debate in the Jordanian street under several headlines, such as: "Sheyyab: Medical Exemptions in Place, But Via Health Ministry Hospitals; Government Plans To Reduce Allocations of Medical Exemptions by 55 Million Dinars; Sheyyab: Medical Exemptions Confined to Health Ministry Hospitals, Not Canceled; No Government Decision To Suspend Medical Exemptions.

Some of the information issued by the ministry made a reference to the high cost of these exemptions.  

Second Rumor: Electricity Bill

A partial and fabricated photocopy of an electricity bill spread on social media, showing an increase in TV fees, garbage collection fees, and meter charges. Many users of these sites circulated and re-posted the photocopy, expressing their rejection and anger over the exaggerated increase in fees. Most of those who circulated it noted the difficult economic conditions facing Jordanian citizens and deplored making such a decision easily without considering its consequences. Many of them published hashtags on their personal pages saying: "Electricity bill will be 8.5 dinars before you consume any watt of it." Others linked the additional TV fees to the poor performance of Jordan TV and the dissatisfaction with it, while some of them congratulated their friends on the New Year, which coincided with raising the fees of the electricity bill.

It should be mentioned that the photocopy of the electricity bill that was circulated is partial and shows that TV fees became 2 dinars instead of 1 dinar; garbage collection fees became 6 dinars instead of 3 dinars; and meter charges became 400 fils, while they were previously 200 fils.  However, the photocopy does not look like the bills issued by the Jordan Electric Power Company. The bill (in the part visible in the photocopy) looks like the bills of the Irbid District Electricity Company.

The monitoring carried out by AKEED noted that media outlets in most cases tended to conduct verification before adopting the news. The first denial was by the director general of the Irbid District Electricity Company. Afterward, some media outlets contacted the chief of the department at the Jordan Electric Power Company in charge of the affairs of the Energy and Mineral Resources Regulatory Commission. The media obtained confirmations that the photocopy that was circulated on social media sites of a partial electricity bill was fabricated. There was a note that any change to fees, whether it is TV or garbage fees, must be made through a decision by the Cabinet and based on officially declared procedures.  

However, AKEED monitored at least two news sites that published the news based on social media accounts without verifying it. One of them later removed the story.

In general, it is noticed that social media sites have become a reference for publishing fake and fabricated news, which is circulated by users of these sites on a large scale without trying to verify it. AKEED recalls the standards for handling user-generated content on social media and how to verify this content, which in many cases includes false and misleading information. This information is circulated among the members of the public as facts, which undermines confidence in the media.

AKEED had earlier developed and published a set of fundamental principles for verifying user-generated content, regardless if this content is visual, written, or even audio. Before making a decision to publish user-generated content, the following questions must be raised:

1. What is the news value of the content available on social media networks? In other words, is it worth reading and verifying?

2. What is the source of this content? Does it have a clear identity? Is it from "citizen journalists" who have previously posted reliable news online? Is it an activist whose identity is known and can he be contacted through his electronic account? Is the account that provided the content anonymous and can its identity be questioned?

3. Can the information provided by the user be verified from other sources?

4. Is there contradiction in the content or information that makes it doubtful?

After applying these standards, AKEED advises editors to do the following:

1. Determine the news value of the content. Is it worth making an effort for?

2. Keep away from content posted on anonymous accounts.

3. If the account has a known identity, had published news before, and is known to be credible, try to contact it.

4. Track the timeline of the subject and its development online to identify the first source that published it.

5. The professional rule, so far, is that any user-generated content online without evidence of its credibility must be avoided.