Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Local Jordanian newspapers all display similar headlines of the king promising justice for the deaths in al-Salt. (Jassar al-Tahat - 19/03/21)

Media monotone in the Arab World pushes citizens to disinformation

Governments in the Middle East have grown less tolerant of criticism over the last two decades, whether it be from a domestic or foreign source. States have cracked down on media freedoms and tightened their grip on domestic media narratives to stifle criticism. The result is a homogeneity of media narratives across the region.

This state control over the media has pushed audiences in the Middle East to turn towards international media outlets and social media platforms to get their news. Ultimately, this has left audiences vulnerable to disinformation campaigns, eroded their faith in state narratives, and undermined trust in state capacity.

This is not to say that all alternative media options are malicious or carry malign intent, however, some of said alternative media options have been proven to be associated with disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda.

The Arab world—like the rest of the world—has seen an influx of information due to the introduction of social media. The ability to disseminate information, once monopolized by the state and traditional media entities, has become open to all individuals, entities and agencies through social media.

This shift in information control has left state attempts to control media narratives unsuccessful, and has caused fierce competition between the state and alternative media outlets. The mission of alternative media, to contradict the state narrative and present itself as the voice of the truth, brings it into direct conflict with the state.

Studies suggest that less credible sources of information use multiple practices to dismiss and disengage audiences from state narratives. Oftentimes stories shared by said sources lack the basic standards of journalism or research. Instead, they use leaked information, conspiracy theories and the spread of baseless accusations to shake their audiences’ trust in state narratives.

Recent events in Jordan provide a clear example of multiple practices aiming to disrupt trust in state narrative. Recent disinformation flashpoints have been the “plot” which involved prince Hamzah, the oxygen cuts in Salt Hospital which resulted in seven deaths, and the domestic opposition movement (known as Hirak in Arabic) commemorating its 10th anniversary.

In each instance, disinformation quickly proliferated over social media. False information swirled about Bassem Awadallah, one of the main figures accused of carrying out seditious activity in Jordan. Exaggerated death tolls were shared after the Salt incident. Social media behavior called for mass demonstrations by Hirak, a stark contrast with the reality on the streets of Jordan.

A twitter user retweets disinformation about Bassem Awadallah, who is accused of stirring sedition in Jordan. Source.
A twitter user retweets disinformation about Bassem Awadallah, who is accused of stirring sedition in Jordan. Source.

At the same time, the Jordanian government insisted on maintaining its strong grip on the media narrative, causing suspicion towards announcements on media and pushing people towards social media and other less credible sources of information, leaving them vulnerable to sensationalism and provocative narratives.

The continued practice of states sponsoring disinformation and dominating media narratives continue to affect trust in traditional media institutions. Further, from the audience’s point of view, the state narrative is not only flawed, but is also meant to actively conceal facts.

This practice of media repression means that audiences will not only confine themselves to media narratives that feed their bias, but also will take measures to ensure their participation in the information sphere remains anonymous.  

In times of crisis, foreign interference in the domestic information sphere becomes easier, especially in light of the lack of trust in the state. For instance, during the prince Hamzah debacle, both Twitter and Facebook accounts appeared to have been spreading disinformation.

Here, for example, is a tweet from the “Arab Gulf Information Center,” which appears to be associated with anti-Saudi Arabia rhetoric. The tweet claims, falsely, that there is a “huge financial offer from Saudi Arabia to Jordan to release Bassem Awadallah.” It must be noted that, countering this form of misinformation is not as effective on social media as the misinformation itself, nor does it appeal to the information consumer.

This account has also been active in spreading disinformation, with its tweets being quoted and referenced in many social media posts and WhatsApp messages circulated among the public. The Tweet in question misrepresents the facts and clearly exaggerates the Prince Hamzah controversy in an inflammatory manner.

In the aftermath of the Salt Hospital incident, disinformation also spread quickly over social media. One example in particular shows how manipulated content is spread and meant to incite audiences. A popular WhatsApp Video insinuated that an armed clash between security forces and citizens took place in northern Jordan. However, it was soon proven that the audio was doctored to insert gun shots into the video and doctored by adding the sound of gun shots to fabricate a clash between the two sides..

In the aftermath of the Prince Hamzah affair, local Jordanian newspaper Addustor claimed that 40,000 twitter accounts were established and were targeting Jordan’s social media sphere with messages designed to undermine state stability and security. However, the paper’s report left out the fact that 40,000 inauthentic accounts is not something hard to manage, establish or direct. Today, inauthentic bot activity on social media is infesting the information sphere, offering perpetrators a cheap and effective tool to meddle in other states’ information spheres while allowing a major margin of plausible deniability.

The ultimate effect of an information sphere awash in disinformation is a loss of public trust in state capacity and state narratives. In addition, the tight grip of the state on media freedom means that the public will be more recipient to conspiracy theories, information presented as “exposing the truth,” as well as to inflammatory content.  

*Picture: Local Jordanian newspapers all display similar headlines of the king promising justice for the deaths in al-Salt. (Jassar al-Tahat - 19/03/21)

More Articles

This Indian fact-checking newsroom is at the forefront of the fight against disinformation on the war in Gaza

In the digital battleground of Gaza's war, a surge of disinformation, primarily from Indian Hindu nationalists, paints Palestinians negatively, fueled by Islamophobia and pro-Israeli sentiments; yet, Alt News emerges as a crucial counterforce, diligently fact-checking and debunking these misleading narratives, even in Arabic, amidst a sea of manipulated social media content.

Meer Faisal
Meer Faisal Published on: 5 Dec, 2023
When journalism and artificial intelligence come face to face

What does the future really hold for journalism and artificial intelligence?

Amira
Amira Zahra Imouloudene Published on: 12 Oct, 2023
How to use data to report on earthquakes

Sifting through data sounds clinical, but journalists can use it to seek out the human element when reporting on natural disasters such as earthquakes

Arwa
Arwa Kooli Published on: 19 Sep, 2023
‘I had no idea how to report on this’ - local journalists tackling climate change stories

Local journalists are key to informing the public about the devastating dangers of climate change but, in India, a lack of knowledge, training and access to expert sources is holding them back

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 13 Sep, 2023
‘Don’t let someone else narrate your stories for you’ - travel journalists in the global south

THE LONG READ: Life as a travel journalist isn’t just for privileged Westerners ‘discovering’ quaint parts of south-east Asia and Africa

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 1 Sep, 2023
‘People need to stop blindly obeying the law’ - journalists fighting on the fringes in Vietnam

THE LONG READ: Imprisoned, exiled and forced to base themselves overseas, independent journalists in Vietnam are punished harshly if they publish the ‘wrong’ sort of content. Some, such as Luật Khoa tạp chí, are fighting back

headshot
AJR Correspondent Published on: 25 Aug, 2023
Ethics and safety in OSINT - can you believe what you see?

OSINT is increasingly important for journalists in a digital world. We take a look at ethics, safety on the internet and how to spot a ‘deepfake’

Sara
Sara Creta Published on: 15 Aug, 2023
‘Other journalists jeer at us’ – life for mobile journalists in Cameroon

Journalists in Cameroon are using their phones in innovative ways to report the news for many different types of media, but major news organisations have still not caught up

Akem
Akem Nkwain Published on: 1 Aug, 2023
Analysis: Could AI replace humans in journalism?

Recent advances in AI are mind-blowing. But good journalism requires certain skills which, for now at least, only humans can master

Mei Shigenobu
Mei Shigenobu Published on: 17 Jul, 2023
Understanding the pitfalls of using artificial intelligence in the news room

We’ve all been amazed by new advances in AI for news rooms. But we must also focus on ensuring its ethical use. Here are some concerns to address

KA
Konstantinos Antonopoulos Published on: 10 Jul, 2023
AI in the newsroom - how to prompt ChatGPT effectively

Interested in using ChatGPT in your work as a journalist? Here’s how to do it more efficiently

KA
Konstantinos Antonopoulos Published on: 29 Jun, 2023
AI in the newsroom - how it could work

AI is now our colleague in the newsroom and is poised to become even more helpful as it gets smarter and we see more opportunities - we look at the potential uses and problems

KA
Konstantinos Antonopoulos Published on: 22 Jun, 2023
What is ChatGPT and why is it important for journalists?

AI is taking the world by storm. In the first of a series of articles about the latest developments, we explain what it's all about

KA
Konstantinos Antonopoulos Published on: 13 Jun, 2023
'Rebuilt memory by memory' - recreating a Palestinian village 75 years after the Nakba

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: How it took the collective memories of several generations, painstaking interviews and a determined search through tall grass and prickly plants to recreate a destroyed community

Amandas
Amandas Ong Published on: 4 Jun, 2023
How to analyse satellite imagery

When you have a story, but still need to tie up loose ends to answer where or when a particular event occurred, satellite imagery can point you in the right direction

Sara
Sara Creta Published on: 25 May, 2023
OSINT: Tracking ships, planes and weapons

Tracking ships and planes is an increasingly valuable technique in open-source investigations carried out by journalists. In part 4 of our special series, we examine how it works

Sara
Sara Creta Published on: 18 May, 2023
Planning and carrying out an open-source investigation

Part three of our special series of articles on using OSINT in journalism. This time, follow our four steps to completing an open-source investigation

Sara
Sara Creta Published on: 9 May, 2023
What is an open-source investigation?

In the second part of our special series on using open-source intelligence in journalism, we look at what constitutes and open-source investigation

Sara
Sara Creta Published on: 4 May, 2023
Using Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) in Journalism

Where once journalists relied on sources for information - also known as ‘human intelligence’ (HUMINT) - they now increasingly rely on ‘open-source’ intelligence (OSINT) gathered from the internet, satellite imagery, corporate databases and much, much more

Phil
Phil Rees Published on: 12 Apr, 2023
Getting started on your data story

In the third and final part of our special series of articles on data journalism, we look at how to work as a team and get started on a data-driven story

Mohammed Haddad
Mohammed Haddad Published on: 30 Mar, 2023
How to produce data-based stories

Follow our four steps to successful data journalism - from the story idea through to publication. Part two of our special series

Mohammed Haddad
Mohammed Haddad Published on: 23 Mar, 2023
Understanding data journalism

Data journalism is about much more than just sorting through facts and figures. In the first part of our series, we look at what constitutes data-based storytelling

Mohammed Haddad
Mohammed Haddad Published on: 16 Mar, 2023
‘Leading the voiceless’ - how low-caste Indian journalists are crowdfunding their own newsrooms

Dalit representation in Indian media organisations is very low. Some journalists from the lowest Hindu caste are finding innovative ways to start up their own news platforms

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 13 Feb, 2023
Virtual reality in the newsroom - placing us in the middle of the story

Journalists can use virtual reality to get a much clearer view of what is happening on the ground during conflict or other major events. This is how it works

Hadeel Arja Published on: 23 Jun, 2022