By Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein
Writing this article is a way for me to address all dear Jordanians and encourage a constructive discussion on our priorities and multiple key national issues, some of which I have highlighted during my various meetings and recently in the Speech from the Throne, covering political, economic, and social aspects. I will continue to shed light on such important national matters through various platforms. In this article, I have decided to focus on a crucial issue — that of disturbing trends on social media platforms.
Our current era may be witnessing the most profound change in the history of media and communications, and in the way information is consumed, produced, spread and interacted with. I am sure most of you are reading this article on their mobile phones, and once done, some of you will be sharing their opinions and thoughts on social media. I look forward to reading them.
Today, social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter enable us to make our voices heard. They provide us with unprecedented opportunities to connect with each other, to express our opinions and exchange views, to come together around key and humanitarian causes, and to highlight and discuss critical issues while building on them through constructive dialogue.
These tools and technologies have become vital for us all, myself included. They are means for me to listen to citizens’ thoughts and opinions, as much as possible, unfiltered, without mediators, barriers or restrictions.
Although times and tools may change, the high values of compassion and solidarity will remain at the heart of the Jordanian ethos. This is what distinguishes us. It is the anchor that enables us to stand firm in the face of all storms.
None can deny Jordan’s steadfastness in the face of adversity. No force, agenda, or attempts to sow sedition can sway Jordanians from their commitment to protecting the homeland at the first sign of an attempt to threaten its security and unity. These deep-rooted values we have inherited and strive to instil in our children are the protective, sturdy shield we maintain and are proud of.
However, seeing recent attempts to shake this anchor on social media platforms has pushed me to write this today.
When navigating social media platforms, we often face an overwhelming volume of hostility, libel and hatred. These platforms have almost become a place for slander and defamation; they are rife with hurtful comments and misinformation, and they almost lack any sense of moral or social responsibility, or adherence to the laws in place to deter and hold all offenders to account.
What we witnessed lately with the Dead Sea incident — which has caused deep pain to us all — and some of the commentary that followed indeed prove that this anchor has been shaken. It reminds us that using social media requires that we do so with a sense of responsibility as we engage over events of a national scale. I find myself compelled to examine some patterns of this engagement. We must differentiate between those who criticised performance and called for identifying the responsible parties — this stems from deep concern and we need that—and between those few who have been offensive to the memory of the children we have lost, which makes us question the basis of their relationship with society and the goals behind this negativity that has, unfortunately, robbed them of their humanity. We must also question who is behind these opinions that are far removed from the values of our society.
Dealing with the aftermath of the deeply painful Dead Sea incident requires taking stock of shortcomings and aspects of negligence, in order to hold to account those who prove to be responsible and to learn lessons that would enable us to avoid such painful incidents in the future. It also requires a deep, comprehensive reflection on the scope and nature of engagement on social media platforms.
It is evident to all observers of online discussions that rumours and fabricated news are used by certain individuals to mislead their followers, fuelling their own agendas and polarising public opinion, or settling personal and political scores.
(We) have been long warned of rumours and rumourmongers; God says in the Holy Koran: “O ye who believe! If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly and afterwards become full of repentance for what ye have done.” (Al Hujurat: Verse 6)
Amongst lies, empty slogans and false heroisms, negativity and frustration thrive. Readers are often left confused between truth and rumour. An air of suspicion, confusion and pessimism lingers in society because of a rumour that bases its credibility solely on its ability to go viral. Thus, the virtual world no longer reflects the real image of our deep-rooted values, our society and our everyday reality.
It has been said that a lie can travel halfway around the world, before the truth can get its boots on. An MIT study supports this, reporting that fabricated news is 70 per cent more likely to spread on a social media platform such as Twitter than a factual report.
This calls to mind the wave of rumours and false stories that spread while I was on my annual break, and continued even after I returned and resumed my activities. The question persisted: Where is the king? Some went as far as questioning my presence even as I stood before them. Can it be that an illusion perpetuated by screens has become a reality to some?
Unfortunately, some people have tried to spread rumours targeting the morale and unity of Jordanians. And when those people are confronted with the fact that their accusations are baseless, they still argue: There is no smoke without fire. I can surely say that those with ill intentions towards Jordan will always find a way to spark a crisis out of nothing.
From time to time, I find myself compelled to address this issue, and we must all never hesitate to confront, those who hide behind their screens and lies with the truth. Whoever suffers harm may resort to court to seek justice, for we are a country of institutions governed by law.
Anyone who offends a Jordanian — whether from my bigger Jordanian family or my immediate family — offends me personally.
To put the phenomenon of misinformation in context, we must remember that it is not unique to Jordan. It is a global phenomenon and challenge. The impact of fabricated news and misinformation was evident in key moments over the past two years across Europe and the United States. As a result, we are witnessing a global trend of countries developing laws to address the spread of fabricated news and misinformation.
Today, there is an urgent need to develop our laws to ensure the protection of freedom of expression, protect citizens’ right to privacy, combat rumours and misinformation, and counter hate speech, especially since several senior executives of the world’s largest social media platforms have openly recognised that their platforms could be abused for negative and destructive purposes.
In light of these pressing developments which must be addressed, it is important to strike a balance between safeguarding freedom of expression — a right we are always committed to protecting — and between the rights and priorities integral to the stability and welfare of our society. This will positively contribute to enriching the public debate necessary to combat the phenomenon of using social media irresponsibly and negatively in many instances.
More important, however, is our responsibility as individuals and societies not to be a passive audience, but to be active and critical of what we read, what we believe and what we share with others. We must apply reason and common sense to weigh news and information.
Let us reflect and ask ourselves: Where would we end up if we were not responsible and cautious when interacting on social media? What would our future look like if we abandoned rationality and reason; if we chose rumours over truth; if our discourse were based on lies and hearsay; if character assassination became the norm? Imagine what would happen if officials were too paralysed by fear to take the right decisions to serve the country and its citizens, or if they were rushed to take arbitrary, uninformed decisions. If citizens did not have reliable facts and information readily available, how could they make informed decisions and engage in responsible national dialogue on decisive issues?
Indeed, Jordan still has a long way to go to fulfil its aspirations and become what Jordanians strive for and well deserve; many challenges remain before us. Therefore, our first priority is development and reform. Countries are not built on scepticism and self-doubt, nor on undermining and denying achievements. They are built by determination, will, hard work, and positive and constructive engagement in national issues.
As we proudly near the centennial of the Jordanian state, and as the world around us develops at an unprecedented pace, let us march confidently and positively towards the future, lest we are left behind. Let us utilise the tools of this age in our favour, enriching them with our Jordanian identity, values and ethics that have guided this homeland’s journey over a century.