Akeed figures revealed that 22 rumors (63%) came from social media, 20 of which (91%) originated from local social platforms, while 2 rumors (9%) came from foreign social media accounts. The number of rumors propagated via media outlets amounted to 13 (37%). Local media outlets did not adopt the other two rumors circulated by foreign media outlets concerning the number of deaths in Al-Salt Public Hospital incident.
Contents of Rumors
Akeed report listed six major domains rumors usually appear in media which include: social, economic, political, security, health and public issues domain. The most common topic hit by rumors in March was related to health sector, with 13 rumors, followed by public issues 8 rumors, security issues came in third place with 5 rumors, social issues 4, economic 3, while rumors targeted the political issues were only 2.
Moving of rumors from social networks to other media outlets
In March, 12 rumors (34%) have moved from social media to news websites, and that is higher than the percentage of rumors moved to news websites in February, and these rumors focused on the lack of oxygen in hospitals and the government intention to impose a full and long-term lockdown.
Local news sources disseminated information from unknown sources. The information has spread on social media and included the following headings: Government intentions to impose a two-week total lockdown, the loss of oxygen in one of Prince Hamza hospital wards, government plans to impose Saturday lockdowns, oxygen shortage at Al-Bashir and Al-Zarqa public hospitals, and plans by the Ministry of Social Development to disburse JOD 100 before Ramadan – a rumor which had also circulated in February.
The Most Prominent Rumors By Topic
Below are the most prominent rumors as observed by Akeed. These rumors have spread widely across social media platforms and media outlets as Akeed decided to focus on.
Thirty-seven percent of the rumors circulating in March were health-related and focused on the oxygen shortage in As-Salt public hospital, where seven Jordanians died. The most widespread rumor had to do with the number of deaths, which were reported to be 14 or 16.
Another rumor that spread in the media was about the resignation of former minister Dr. Saad Kharabsheh from the National Epidemics Committee. He publicly refuted the news and confirmed that it was a rumor, explaining his absence from committee’s emergency meeting as due to family matters.
One rumor that spread across media outlets denied any deaths from the lack of oxygen at As-Salt public hospital. This was turned out to be false; in fact there were seven deaths. Other rumors claimed that one of the wards at Hamza hospital ran out of oxygen, and similar claims spread about at Al-Bashir Al-Zarqa government hospitals. Other rumors tried to explain the reason behind oxygen outage by attributing it to liquidity issues. Another health-related rumor, circulated as a voice note, allegedly said that patients at Al-Bashir hospital have been sedated with morphine. There was also a rumor regarding a request to use public schools as emergency hospitals to admit COVID patients. Besides, the resignation of a director of one of the health centers in Amman.
Government authorities, including the ministry of health and hospital directors denied these rumors spread by media organizations as well as social media which had a share of 13 rumors.
Rumors Concerning Public Affairs
Since last May of 2020, Akeed implemented a new classification system for rumors relating to public affairs issues which involves education and higher education, labor unions sector, and the decisions related to official and national holidays.
The rumors about public affairs accounted for 23% of total rumors spread throughout the month of March on social media, primarily on educational pages. A rumor was made about the Ministers of Education, Justice and Interior attending a dinner which resulted in the resignation of the Ministers of Justice and Interior.
In addition, a rumor allegedly claimed that the Minister of Education would not allow distance learning even due to its dangerous implications on children. Others included speculations that working hours at government ministries/offices and public institutions would be reduced to 10% and that some institutions would be suspended for three weeks. A government official refuted the first rumor. As for the second rumor, an official spokesperson from the Ministry of Education denied the rumor in a press release.
Social media platform users, mainly Facebook and WhatsApp, circulated a rumor that was claimed to be “viral” regarding ten university students who were suspended for three semesters for using a picture of a professor as a WhatsApp sticker. This rumor was said to have originated from some social media pages. Akeed has confirmed that the news is fake.
Through basic research, Akeed established that the report which was widely spread by Jordanian users was published by “Syrian” social media pages for the first time on March 6. It was subsequently spread on local pages and groups, especially over WhatsApp. Among the suspicious details of the report was the use of the word “terms” to refer to the periods of time in which universities are in session, while in Jordan it is commonly referred to terms as “semesters” or “years”. Analyzing the words and phrases in the one piece of news as tools that can be a useful skill for journalists to verify a news prior to publishing.
At the end of March, social media sites spread a rumor that students specializing in medicine and dentistry would have to repeat the studies of past year. Official sources refuted this, stating that such a topic had never been up for discussion.
Military and government sources refuted several rumors in March, the most prominent of which were related to imposing a complete or partial lockdown. A widely-spread rumor via social media and media outlets; the news read, “Sources: Starting Sunday, nighttime curfew hours will be reduced to start at 9:00 pm for businesses and 10:00 pm for individuals.”
Rumors concerning security issues read as follows: “total lockdown starting Tuesday and for three days”; “ to reduce 10% of the working hours at ministries and public institutes and for public institutions to shut down for three-weeks;” Saturday lockdown“;” impose a two-week total lockdown”; “omit penalties violating the defense law“; “ permission to walk to mosques for Fajr (dawn) and Isha (evening) prayers ”; a new public security vehicle assigned to issue tickets for those who violate traffic regulations turned out to be designated for criminal and executing purposes only” ; “Video clips of a vehicle running over people appeared and of protests have happened outside Jordan”; “ lockdown every Saturday “.
The most prominent rumor on economy that spread in March and was denied by the Ministry of Social Development, claimed that the Ministry intended to disburse JOD 100 before Ramadan. The government also refuted allegations that it intended to pay employees' wages on 17th March before imposing a long lockdown.
A media outlet spread news from an anonymous source reporting that the government intended to issue a new defense order for the private sector working hours. The government denied this news through its official spokesperson. Some social media accounts also spread reports that the Execution Law committee recommended the cancellation of debtor imprisonment penalty and restoring the 1926 law. There was also a rumor about government intentions to issue a special defense order, specifically relating to debtor imprisonment. No such ordee was issued despite the outlet’s claim that it would be imposed the next day.
The political rumors that spread in March that the Prime Minister had asked all Ministers to present their resignations, soon denied by official sources after the incident of Minister of Justice and the Minister of Interior resignation.
Another rumor claimed that the Minister of Education had joined the Ministers of Justice and Interior at the dinner that the government entailed violations of public security measures and defense orders. Furthermore, it was claimed that the two ministers who were dismissed had attended the wedding party of a parliament member’s son at a restaurant in Amman. Another rumor claimed that Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh had resigned upon the tragic event of As-Salt public hospital.
None of those rumors, which spread on social media and in the news, proved true.
Four rumors related to society and social issues spread during the month of March. One such rumor alleged that a bride and groom were released after they were detained and interrogated for violating the defense order. Authorities issued refutations of these allegations to local media outlets. It was later published that some couples had been sentenced to six months in jail for violating defense orders.
Local news also spread a rumor about the death of a public security officer who said, “I will buy bread for those who cannot afford it. It’s on me.” The policeman’s father refuted this, saying that his son is still alive.