44 rumors in December: year ends on a drop

Akeed – Dana Al Emam

A total of 44 rumors were documented in December, registering a remarkable decrease compared to November when 60 rumors had been recorded.

An examination of December rumors shows a noticeable similarity in the number of rumors on different topics. There were 9 health rumors and 9 social rumors, for example, each constituting 20.5% of the total; they were followed by 8 economic rumors that made up 18% of the total.

There were repeated rumors about the safety, availability and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, which the government denied on multiple occasions.

Rumor sources according to their origin

The Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor “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 40 of the rumors in December originated from within Jordan, whether via social media platforms or from news outlets. These accounted for 91% of all rumors documented in this month, while 4 rumors only (9% of the total) originated outside Jordan.

Rumors sources according to the method of publication

Akeed found that 30 rumors, or 68% of the month’s total, originated on social media platforms. Only 3 of these (10% of the total) were published on foreign social media accounts, while the remaining 27 (90% of the total) were published on local accounts.

The number of rumors propagated by the media reached 14, accounting for 32% of the total. Almost all of these (13 in total, or 93%) were issued by local media outlets, while foreign media outlets published only one rumor (7% of the total).

Akeed did not identify any rumors from December as having emerged from official sources.

Rumor topics

The two most common topics were health and society, with each generating 9 rumors (20.5% of the month’s total). These were followed by the economy, about which there were 8 rumors (18%). The number of rumors dealing with security affairs stood at 7 (16% of the month’s total), followed by 6 rumors about public affairs (14%) and 5 political rumors (11%).

Migration of rumors from social media to media outlets

In December, 5 rumors (11.3% of the month’s total) migrated from social media platforms to media outlets. This percentage is slightly higher than that of rumors spread this way in November, when 3 such rumors made up 5% of the month’s total.

Local news sites cited misinformation from social media about the government's intention to reduce the hours of the partial curfew, to 11pm for establishments and midnight for individuals. This was denied by the government, which reiterated its previous decision to not to alter curfew hours and to update these measures - if necessary - by the end of the year 2020.

Furthermore, a local news site committed a professional violation after it published information circulating on social media about the alleged stabbing of a boy in the area of Quweismeh, east of the capital. Security authorities denied the accuracy of the information being shared.

Most prominent rumors by topic

Below are the most prominent rumors that Akeed monitored, 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 delineated 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 December and generated substantial attention were those addressing the education sector. Social media users shared false news about students’ return to in-person education at the beginning of the second semester. The Minister of Education, Tayseer Al Noaimi, denied the information being circulated, stating that the ministry had not yet issued any decision of this kind. In statements to the press, Al Noami said that "the return of students to schools will be gradual and on a rotational basis, in the event it does take place”.

Health rumors:

In December, there were a variety of rumors related to the novel coronavirus and related incidents and policies. Akeed monitored 9 rumors concerning the health sector, with these revolving primarily around COVID-19 vaccines. Among these rumors were reports that coronavirus vaccines cause death or paraplegia; that they are being used to place a chip in the bodies of vaccine recipients so that they may be tracked; and that the vaccine modifies the genetic code of those who take it. Secretary-General of the Ministry of Health for Epidemiological Affairs and top coronavirus official, Dr. Wail Hayajneh, denied the validity of all these rumors in a video clip published by the Prime Ministry’s "You have the right to know" platform.

Dr. Hayajneh stated that the COVID-19 vaccines that will be used in Jordan come from trusted sources and have been registered in reliable scientific institutions after the requisite research had been conducted on them. He also said that the vaccine had been developed to eliminate the disease, not to track people; and furthermore that it does not change the body's genetic code but rather uses the human body to manufacture proteins and then antibodies so as to create an immunity to the virus in the body.

Dr. Hayajneh also denied a rumor alleging that the vaccine will come at a substantial cost and on the basis of personal connections. He clarified that the vaccine will be free for citizens and residents in Jordan, and will be distributed fairly and according to criteria determined in advance. Dr. Hayajneh also denied misinformation that the arrival of the vaccine obviates the need for precautionary measures like mask wearing. Taking the vaccine, he said, is not a substitute for mask wearing as prevention lies in both measures.

Security rumors:

Over the course of December, security officials refuted several rumors about the government’s intention to reduce the partial curfew or lift the total lockdown on Fridays. They also denied media reports about the crimes that allegedly occurred in different regions of the Kingdom.

Among the security-related rumors that spread in December was the suggestion by news websites that the kidnapping and disfigurement of a child (after her father refused to marry her to a young man in Ramtha) was recent news. In fact, as the security services explained, this is an old case and is currently being looked into by the judiciary; hence the claim being circulated that it is recent is entirely false. Security authorities also refuted a video shared by social media users depicting the recovery of a young man’s body from a well. The Public Security Directorate explained that the video is not in Jordan but rather the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as was confirmed by a Palestinian security official.

There was also a rumor that the government had endorsed new decisions related to the reduction of partial curfew hours and the reopening of activities suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. This was denied by the government, which stressed that the measures currently in effect would continue. An official source also denied false news about the government's intention to impose a total lockdown over three consecutive days, including Friday, which would have coincided with Christmas. It stated that the lockdown would be limited to Friday only.

Economic rumors:

Among the most prominent economic rumors that social media users propagated in December concerned the discovery of gold treasures in excavations by the Amman Municipality in the downtown area. This was denied by the Director General of the Department of Antiquities, Yazid Elayyan, who after viewing the shared videos confirmed that they were false. He said the videos were images and film clips of discoveries in Europe, Italy, and other places outside Jordan that had been shared several years ago.

In addition, Transport Minister Marwan Khitan denied any intention to halt flights to Jordan next month after the emergence of a new coronavirus strain. The minister emphasized that closing the airport was not something that had been studied or presented as an option, and was not under discussion. A similar rumor had spread on news websites during November, which the minister also denied at the time.

Political rumors:

Lower House speaker Abdulmunim Oddat denied two rumors during the course of December. The first related to media reports about Oddat’s influence over representatives in selecting parliamentary committees. The second concerned an image of a paper that news outlets (citing social media platforms) attributed to Oddat, of promises that he had allegedly made to one of the representatives during a parliamentary session.

Social rumors:

Among the rumors that spread during December was one circulated by media outlets about the death of the Jordanian artist, Musa Hijazin, which was refuted at the outset by the head of the Jordanian Artists Association, Hussein al-Khatib. Hijazin later denied the rumor on his Facebook page and assured his fans that he was doing well.

Akeed firmly believes, and indeed takes it as a guiding principle, that content produced by social media users should not be republished 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 a great deal of misinformation and the propagation of rumors.

Akeed hence worked to identify obviously false rumors, or those news stories that were proven to be untrue in the days following their publication.

Akeed has developed a set of basic criteria to verify user content, regardless of whether it is visual, written, or aural. These principles clarify the need to ask a series of fundamental questions before deciding to publish content originally produced on social media.

Akeed has developed a methodology for monitoring rumors, by which rumors were defined to be “misinformation relating to Jordanian public affairs or Jordanian interests, that has spread via digital media to reach more than approximately 5,000 people”.

Rumors typically proliferate in extraordinary circumstances, such as in times of crisis, war, or natural disasters. This does not mean, however, that they do not spread under normal circumstances as well. It is also well-known that rumors are widely propagated in specific social, political, and cultural environments. Their prevalence depends on the degree of their ambiguity and the relative importance of their subject matter.