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Officials warn against false news ‘igniting national fear’

Presser covers role played by media during Salt suspected terror attack

By Maram Kayed - Aug 13,2018 - Last updated at Aug 13,2018

Officials speak during a press conference at the Public Security Department on Monday (Petra photo)

AMMAN — In light of the recent terrorist attacks on Salt, media experts and government officials reflected on the media’s role in contributing or hindering the social turmoil among citizens.

“I have to admit that most journalists and reporters working in official and known newspapers handled the situation professionally, although some individuals and so-called activists had a huge role in magnifying the situation and making it into something that it is not,” said Rakan Saaydeh, President of the Jordan Press Association (JPA).

Saaydeh told The Jordan Times that, contrary to individuals publishing posts on social media, journalists have to "think twice" before writing or publishing something that they are unsure of, because of the legal sanctions and professional values that prevent them from doing so.

Minister of State for Media Affairs Jumana Ghunaimat said in a press conference that aired live on the Public Security Department’s official Facebook page on Monday “people who spread rumours or false information about the incident on social media are one of two: Either people who are supporters of the terrorist group or non-knowledgeable citizens who are unaware of the damages that social media can inflict on the situation. The first group is hopeless to deal with, while the second can be educated for the future.”

Ghunaimat spoke of a new strategy adopted by the government to keep citizens informed and provided with accurate facts, defining it as a new step towards the transparency manifested itself during the Salt incident. 

Bayan Tal, senior advisor at the Jordan Media Institute, told The Jordan Times that this approach is "indeed noticeable" in the new Razzaz government.

"There is a gap of trust between the government and the citizens when it comes to news. This is a result of the past governments’ way of dealing with the media and it is what leads citizens to often turn to rumours or unofficial news outlets for information, rather than the government's press release, as proven by studies,” Tal said.

For his part, Spokesperson of the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs Sami Mahasneh told The Jordan Times over the phone that a meeting with the minister and heads of political parties had been concluded with "unanimous agreement upon the government’s media strategy".

He announced that a new platform dubbed “It’s Your Right to Know” is being developed by the government to issue around-the-clock news, which he said "will hopefully put an end to all false news and deal with sensitive ones in a delicate manner".

Out of all the news and rumours circulating on “unofficial” and “unprofessional” news agencies, a government official singled out the act of posting pictures and names of martyrs, calling it a “grossly inconsiderate” act that violates the privacy of the martyrs' families, in addition to putting ongoing investigations and operations at risk.

The JPA’s president expressed his discontent with the same point, reiterating that government officials have specifically asked for the names and photos of the martyrs to be kept private.

Tal concluded by stressing that the competition between news agencies should not push them to commit immoral and disgraceful acts just to get views, likes, and comments, as those are “not the values of a true journalist”.

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The Jordanian authorities should also look into how YouTube is helping fuel "false news." When you are logged out of your YouTube account (and if you're located in Jordan), the top trending videos that show up on YouTube are conspiracy-theory type videos about His Majesty the King. The content of the videos is nothing but fabricated conspiracy theory to destabilize the country - and by no means should be the top results on YouTube for Jordan. The office of Her Majesty Queen Rania have a couple of joint education programs with Google; they already have established contacts with the American tech giant and should be able to talk to Google about better monitoring Arabic content on YouTube's trending topics. I have written a letter to YouTube about how they seem to have a very weak Arabic content moderation team, because the videos that trend on their platform are all very negative (although there is a plethora of Arabic & Jordanian YouTube channels that offer balanced content, however they don't seem to make it to top trending or promoted videos because of the way the algorithms of YouTube can be manipulated by bots). The reason negative content about Jordan gets prime spot on YouTube is simple: Those channels use bots to increase their viewership count so that they can trend. Fake bots on YouTube and on social media are actually an issue the European Union is currently looking to fight in this age of social-media disinformation. One more thing - Jordan needs a data protection law to protect its citizens from online manipulation on Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere, and should start to engage directly with such platforms to fight "disinformation" - or what some refer to as "fake news" or "false news." The Jordanian media should start getting professional training to raise awareness on these issues and to start understanding how social media platforms like Facebook & Google harvest information of Jordanian users so that bad actors can micro-target citizens with disinformation that is designed to destabilize the country. The fact that any foreign actor (acting in bad faith) can target Jordanians with disinformation on Facebook & YouTube means Jordan can no longer stay on the side-lines of the social-media conversation. Jordan can learn a lot from the EU who have rolled out their General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May, and who are on their way to roll out rules for social-media to end the disinformation phenomenon. The EU is also currently working on rules to regulate AI (artificial intelligence), which is closely related to data protection, since facial recognition the chnology is now being used to study people’s emotions through their facial expressions so that they can be micro-targeted with ads & propaganda “in real time” in a way that can more effectively sway them (or manipulate them) into taking the desired action. Jordan is yet to issue its own data protection laws to comply with EU's GDPR rules. MoICT informed me in a tweet a few months ago that they've started to work on a data protection law for Jordan under former MoICT Minister Majd Shweikeh. Not sure, however, about the status of the law under new Minister Muthana Gharaibeh. To fight disinformation this law (and other relevant laws for disinformation on social media + regulation of drones and AI) should be a priority for the country! Jordanians in general are not aware that their data is being harvested on Facebook. They leave their location data “on” at all times, and are being micro-targeted on the platform for lack of Jordanian laws to prohibit social media platforms from manipulating our citizens. The Jordanian media - in collaboration with the Jordanian Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) - should also start an awareness campaign to alert citizens about how their data is being harvested & used on social media platforms and how they are being micro-targeted with propaganda ads to plant conspiracy theory and disinformation designed to destabilize the country. Time to step up your game, Jordan!

LOOKING AT THE THIS PICTURE OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE, ONE CAN EASILY MIS-TRANSLATE THE MOOD AS ANGER AND ANGRY AGAINST CITIZENS. IRONICALLY, SHE IS NOT ANGRY BUT POINTING OUT THE FACTS AS SOME OF US ALREADY KNEW IT. SHE ALSO PRESENTED GOOD IDEAS TO DEVELOP A MUCH BETTER WAY TO ENHANCE COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN GOVERNMENT AND CITIZENS. IN FACT, I DO NOT UNDERSTAND OR KNOW WHAT ELSE THAT PEOPLE CAN POST ON THE SOCIAL MEDIA BECAUSE THE WHOLE INCIDENT AND HOW IT UNFOLDED WAS CRYSTAL CLEAR AND WAS REPORTED AS IT SHOULD WITH OUT HIDING ANYTHING. THE GOVERNMENT WAS TRASPARENT AND EVEN GAVE OUT TOO MUCH INFORMATION MORE THAN NECESSARY. YES, SOME CRAZY INDIVIDUALS WITH CRIMINAL INTENT ATTACKED JORDAN AND WAS QUICKLY ROUTED AND CONTAINED. THIS TYPE OF MADDNESS DO HAPPEN AND CAN HAPPEN ANY WHERE. AS I HAVE ALWAYS SAID, I DO TRUST THE JORDANIAN DEFENCE FORCE AND THEY DID NOT FAIL. IN FACT THE RAPPID AND SUCCESSFUL BRINGING THE SYSTEN TO AN END WAS NEVER IN DOUT AND SHOULD SERVE AS LEASON TO WOULD BE TERROR GROUPS. JORDAN IS NOT IRAQ, SYRIA, OR EVEN ANY SUPER POWER IN THAT REGION WHEN IT COMES TO THE JORDANIAN INTELLIGENT AND DEFENCE FORCE SO I DO EXPECT THE CITIZENS TO BE HAPPY THAT THEY HAVE HIS MAJESTY AND HIS DEFENCE DEPARTMENT. WATCHING HIS MAJESTY GOING HOUSE TO HOUSE TO BE WITH THE WOUNDED AND MOURN WITH THE FAMILIES OF THE FALLEN HEROS TOUCHES MY HEART AND I SALUTE HIM. HE IS A LEADER WITH BIG HEARTAND HONESTLY LOVES HIS PEOPLE. I DO NOT EXPECT ANY THING LESS THAN PRAISES FOR THE GOVERNMENT AND THE WAY THAT THIS INCIDENT WAS HANDLED, BE IT IN THE SOCIAL MEDIA AND/OR PRESS OUTLETS. AND SO MY FRIENDS AND IN LAWS, LET US COOL IT AND HELP THE KINGDOM IN THIS WAR ON TERROR. JORDAN STRONG!!!!!!!

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