53 rumors in October, with security rumors most prominent

Akeed  – Aya Al Khwaldeh and Dana Al Emam

A total of 53 rumors were documented in October, registering a slight decrease in comparison to September, when 59 had been documented. 

What was notable about October rumors was a rise in the numbers of rumors related to the security sector, as 18 rumors constituted 34% of the total, in comparison to the 7 rumors that made up 11.9% of the September total. 

There were repeated rumors about the impending announcement of a total lockdown that would last between a month, two weeks, and three days; the last of these was a rumor about an emergency government meeting to discuss imposing a long-term comprehensive lockdown after 3,800 cases of the coronavirus were reported on Tuesday, October 27th.

In addition, several rumors circulated that connected incidents of assault to ex-convicts involved in extortion, especially after an incident where a group of ex-convicts assaulted a 16-year-old boy in Zarqa Governorate.

 

Rumor sources according to their origin

Akeed utilized both qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the topics of rumors spreading among online news sites, social media networks, and media outlets. It found that 52 of the rumors in October originated from within Jordan, whether on social media platforms or news outlets. These accounted for 98% of all rumors documented this month, while just one rumor (2% of the total) originated outside Jordan.

 

Rumors sources according to the method of publication

Akeed found that 32 rumors, or 60% of the month’s total, originated from users of social media platforms. Only one of these (3% of the total) was published through a foreign social media account, whereas the remaining 31 (97%) were published locally.

The number of rumors propagated by media outlets stood at 19, accounting for 36% of the total; all of these were published by local media outlets.

Akeed identified two rumors emerging from official sources, amounting to 4% of the total. They were shared widely on social media platforms and media outlets before being rectified by the authorities.

 

Rumor topics

The most common topic was the security sector, with 18 rumors (34% of the month’s total), followed by the health sector, about which there were 14 rumors (26%). There was an equal number of rumors dealing with social and economic affairs, with both topics seeing 7 rumors (13.3 percent for each). The number of rumors dealing with public affairs stood at 4 (7.4 percent), while the least common topic was political affairs, about which 3 rumors were recorded in October (6%).

 

Migration of rumors from social media to media outlets

In October, four rumors (7.5% of the month’s total) migrated from social media platforms to news websites. This was close to the percentage of rumors that spread this way in September, when 4 such rumors made up 6.8% of the total that month. 

Local news sites cited false information from Facebook, where the head of the Jordanian Society of Genetic Engineers claimed that Ministry of Health coronavirus test kits were contaminated with the virus and hence driving the increase in reported infections. Soon thereafter, the Ministry of Health published a statement explaining how the allegation was incorrect.

A local news site likewise committed a professional violation in publishing information circulating on social media that linked an attack on an Uber driver to a group of ex-convicts involved in extortion. The Public Security Directorate indicated in a statement that this was incorrect and explained that the incident occurred as a result of a spontaneous dispute.

 

Most prominent rumors by topic

Below are the most prominent rumors that Akeed monitored and which spread widely across social media platforms and media outlets, arranged according to topics designated by Akeed.

Public affairs rumors

In the beginning of May, Akeed created a new classification for rumors relating to public affairs issues, such as primary, secondary, and university education; labor unions; and decisions about official and national holidays.  

Among the rumors that circulated on news websites in September and generated substantial attention were those dealing with education. Social media users shared an image of an erroneous question from the Islamic Culture exam, about the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBOH) wet nurse. The spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, Abdul Ghafour Quraan, stressed that the photo being circulated had been fabricated on Photoshop.

Among the rumors that were refuted by the authorities was one concerning “changes to the nature and dates of the university semester,” with the spokesperson for the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Muhannad al-Khatib, denying such changes, and confirming that the university term would remain as described in a previous government press briefing.

 

Security rumors

Security officials refuted several rumors over the course of October, including one circulated via Whatsapp about the government's intention to impose a 30-day total lockdown. This was denied by the Minister of State for Media Affairs, Ali Ayed, in a statement published on the Office of the Prime Minister’s “Haggak Te’raf” platform, [meaning, it’s your right to know], emphasizing that the government had not considered this option at all. The government denied another related rumor published by a local news site about an extension of the lockdown imposed between Friday, October 9th and Saturday, October 10th to Monday, October 12th. Security services also denied a rumor regarding the imposition of a total lockdown on Thursday, October 29th, this being an official holiday to mark the occasion of the Prophet's birthday.

Similarly, the media spokesperson for the Public Security Directorate, Amer al-Saratawi, recently explained that a video clip shared on social media sites of a murder purported to have occured in Jordan in which one person opens fire an another, had not indeed been committed in the country. In another statement al-Sartawi likewise explained that an attack on a coffeeshop in Irbid, which a local news site alleged had been committed by "thugs," was not connected to ex-convicts involved in extortion. He explained that investigations indicated that the two people who did not carry a criminal record ransacked the cafe following a previous personal dispute with its owners.

 

Medical rumors

In September, there were a variety of rumors related to the novel coronavirus, and related incidents and policies. Akeed monitored 14 rumors concerning the health sector, with these revolving around the reported number of coronavirus infections and details about those who have died from the virus; among such rumors were: a delay in the announcement of infection numbers on Friday, October 23rd was due to recording over 4,000 new cases; the reporting of coronavirus cases in a facemask factory; and that the number of infections exceeding the officially announced figures, with actual case numbers suppressed. All of these rumors have been denied. Officials also denied rumors claiming that families of those who died from the coronavirus receiving sums of money.

Among the misinformation which concerned the health sector and was denied by the government was a story reported by media outlets via social media platforms, according to which coronavirus testing kits are contaminated with the virus and that the virus may be transmitted through groundwater.

 

Economic rumors

Among the most prominent economic rumors that social media users propagated in October concerned, was a claim that the government intended to issue public-sector salaries early this month. The Finance Ministry denied this, confirming that salaries will be paid on their usual date.

 

Political rumors

Among the political rumors that spread on social media platforms in October was false information about the secret transfer of Saeb Erekat, the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, to Jordan for medical treatment after being infected with the coronavirus. Erekat’s office denied this in a statement which said that “there is no truth to all of the reports that are being circulated on social media about the transfer of Saeb Erekat to Jordan for treatment.” It is reported that His Majesty King Abdullah II gave directions to provide Erekat with any needed medical assistance.

 

Social rumors

Among the social rumors that spread during September was one circulated by leading social media accounts about the cancellation of military service program for youth, something which was denied by the media spokesperson for the Ministry of Labor, Muhammad Al-Zyoud, who explained that the reason behaind the postponement of call-ups by the armed forces is solely related to the increase in coronavirus cases and the closures that some areas have witnessed as a result. These have prevented call-ups from arriving.

Zarqa governor Hijazi Assaf also denied false information spread about the death of the boy in Zarqa governorate who suffered an assault in which his hands were amputated, one of his eyes gouged out, and the other injured. Assaf stressed that the boy’s medical condition is improving.

Akeed holds that the basic rule in dealing with content produced by social media users is not to republish it unless it has been verified by a reliable source. Relying on social media users as a news source without taking into account the accuracy of such information leads to the publication of many false news stories and the propagation of rumors.

Akeed hence worked to identify obvious rumors as false, or those news stories that have been proven to be untrue in the days following their publication.

Akeed has developed a set of basic principles to verify user content, regardless of the type of content and whether it is visual, written, or even audible, elucidating the necessity of asking a series of questions before deciding to publish content.

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